Vangelis, ‘Blade Runner’ Composer and Electronic Icon, Dies at 79
Vangelis, the innovative Greek composer whose catalog spans electronic music, progressive rock and major film scores (Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire), has died at age 79.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted (per an English translation), "Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer with us." While a cause of death has yet to be announced, the Associated Press reports that the musician died in a French hospital late Tuesday.
Vangelis, born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in 1943, started experimenting with music as a child and joined his first bands as a teenager. After scoring a handful of Greek films in the '60s, he formed the psychedelic prog-rock band Aphrodite’s Child, who released three studio albums — their final project, the loosely conceptual 1972 double-LP 666, is now revered as a classic of the genre. (UCR included the track "The Four Horsemen" on our list of the Top 50 Progressive Rock Songs.)
While primarily known as a keyboardist (he famously rejected an offer to replace Rick Wakeman in Yes during the mid-'70s), Vangelis was also a versatile multi-instrumentalist — a skill displayed throughout his post-Aphrodite's solo work. His '70s material ventures into spacey prog, ambient, classical and electronica, with the synthesizer developing into his signature.
The early '80s marked a commercial breakthrough for Vangelis as he landed two significant film scoring projects: the 1981 sports drama Chariots of Fire (which won an Academy Award for Best Original Score) and Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner. (The chiming piano theme to "Chariots of Fire" also topped the Billboard Hot 100.)
"My main inspiration was the story itself," he told The Guardian of his work on Chariots of Fire. "The rest I did instinctively, without thinking about anything else, other than to express my feelings with the technological means available to me at the time."
Vangelis remained prolific over the decades: recording numerous other soundtracks, collaborating on four albums with Yes singer Jon Anderson (under the name Jon & Vangelis) and issuing solo work at a semi-steady pace. His final studio album, Juno to Jupiter, came out in 2021.
While Vangelis is naturally lumped in with other electronic pioneers from his era, his work stands out stylistically. Former Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger told NPR in 2016, "The key difference is melody." "Whether it's Blade Runner or the 1492 film ... there are big melodic statements," he said. "And [Vangelis is] a master of that particular skill."