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Vangelis, 1943-2022

Composer Vangelis died on May 19, 2022, in hospital in Paris, where he was being treated for COVID-19. He was 79.

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou was born in Agria, Greece, in March 1943, and in his youth was a self-taught musician, experimenting by combining pianos with traditional Greek folk music, jazz, and rock. After some early success in Greek pop music circles he co-founded the group Aphrodite’s Child with vocalist Demis Roussos, among others, and together they would enjoy great success in Europe, especially the single “Rain and Tears” in 1968. During this period Vangelis also dabbled in film music, writing music for several domestic films, before eventually making his international film music breakthrough in 1970 with the film Sex Power.

Throughout the 1970s Vangelis continued to have success both as a film composer and a recording artist; he scored popular documentary films such as L’Apocalypse des Animaux, La Fête Sauvage, and Opéra Sauvage, while simultaneously enjoying chart success, notably as one half of ‘Jon & Vangelis’ with Jon Anderson of Yes; their singles “I Hear You Now” and “I’ll Find My Way Home” were chart hits in the UK. His music was also notably used to score the groundbreaking 1980 PBS documentary series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage presented by Carl Sagan, which brought his music to American audiences for the first time. During this period Vangelis developed the iconic sound that would typify much of his career, combining lush and powerful orchestral forces with sometimes very experimental electronica.

Vangelis entered the film music mainstream when he scored, and won an Oscar, for his score for the British film Chariots of Fire in 1981, about the 1924 Summer Olympics; his main theme is now indelibly associated with the Olympics and track & field athletics, and is one of the most famous and most recognizable themes in film music history. Throughout the rest of the 1980s and into the early 1990s Vangelis worked on numerous successful and popular films, including the iconic sci-fi epic Blade Runner, the political thriller Missing, the Japanese adventure Antarctica, the historical drama The Bounty, the erotic thriller Bitter Moon, and the historical epic 1492: Conquest of Paradise which starred Gérard Depardieu as Christopher Columbus.

The last major score of Vangelis’s career was another historical epic, Oliver Stone’s Alexander starring Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great, in 2004, after which Vangelis concentrated mostly on personal projects – short films, documentaries, art projects, and concert works. His concert work Mythodea, written to accompany the NASA Mission Mars Odyssey mission, was a popular success, and this was followed two further space-themed albums: Rosetta, in 2016, and Juno to Jupiter in 2021.

In addition to his Oscar for Chariots of Fire Vangelis was nominated for three BAFTA Awards, two Golden Globes, and three Grammy Awards. Vangelis was notoriously reclusive and rarely gave interviews; as such, details of his personal life remain mysterious, but information suggests that he was married at least three times – once to photographer Veronique Skawinska, and once to singer Vana Veroutis, and was married to a third wife at the time of his death. He had no children.

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