Vangelis, whose instantly recognizable, Oscar-winning musical theme for 1981’s Chariots of Fire won an Oscar and became a sort of aural shorthand for tales of endurance and triumph, died May 17, according to his representatives. He was 79.
His assistant Lefteris Zermas has confirmed the death but did not provide a specific cause, saying only that Vangelis died in a hospital in France. Greek newspaper OT is reporting that Vangelis was being treated for Covid.
Born Evangelos Odessey Papathanassiou in Greece, the composer and musician known worldwide simply as Vangelis combined orchestral music, electronic synth sounds, jazz and ambient to create a then-new sound for the film that seemed to provide the musical equivalent of the ocean waves that crashed as the story’s Olympic runners sprinted down the beach. (Watch the video below.)
His single titled “Chariots of Fire – Titles’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1982, and the Chariots of Fire album — which is credited to Vangelis — spent four weeks at No. 1, spending more than a year on the chart and going platinum.
Vangelis would go on to compose scores for Blade Runner (1982), Missing (1982), Antarctica (1983), The Bounty (1984), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) and Alexander (2004), among many other recording projects, but would forever be most closely associated with the Chariots anthem. The theme, released as a single, reached the top of American Billboard Hot 100 chart, and has been used in countless sports presentations since, including the London 2012 Olympics ceremonies.
After beginning his career in the 1960s in the pop music world, Vangelis also developed an early affinity for film: From 1963-67, he scored music for several Greek movies, launching a film and documentary career that would last decades. By the 1980s, Vangelis had also segued into the progressive rock sphere, most notably in collaborations with Jon Anderson, singer of the classic prog-rock band Yes.
In the mid-’70s, Vangelis relocated to London, launching a recording studio and landing a recording deal with RCA Records. On that label, he released a series of groundbreaking ’70s albums that experimented with electronica, chamber music and world music. His 1980 collaboration with Anderson, Short Stories, became a hit in the UK. The duo called Jon & Vangelis would reteam on various projects throughout the decade.
Some of Vangelis’ work from the era was used in Carl Sagan’s 1980 TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, providing an even larger audience for the composer’s work. That same year, he began work on the film commission that would provide global fame.
Originally called, simply, “Titles,” the theme for director Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire would play no small part in the film’s success, rivaling Bill Conti’s theme from Rocky (“Gonna Fly Now”) as the go-to musical accompaniment for sports events and other tales of hard-won victory. The film, which starred Ben Cross and Ian Charleson as British competitors in the 1924 Olympics, would win four Oscars, including Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Costumes and, for Vangelis, Original Score. The song later was used at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Vangelis followed up that success with a memorable collaboration with Ridley Scott for 1982’s Blade Runner, nominated for both BAFTA and Golden Globe awards. The two would reunite in 1992 for 1492: Conquest of Paradise, with Vangelis’ score earning an Oscar nomination.
Subsequent Vangelis film and TV scores include Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon (1992) and Oliver Stone’s Alexander (2004).
In addition to his film work, Vangelis recorded numerous albums, both solo and in collaborations with other artists. Among his many honors, Vangelis received NASA’s Public Service Medal in 2003.
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