Athens (AFP) – “Blade Runner” and “Chariots of Fire” composer Vangelis, the pioneer of electronic music and the only Greek to win an Oscar for best original score, has died aged 79.
The reclusive, mostly self-taught keyboard wizard has been a lifelong experimenter, moving from psychedelic rock and synth to ethnic music and jazz.
Over a career spanning more than five decades, Vangelis drew inspiration from space exploration, wildlife, futuristic architecture, the New Testament and the French student riots of 1968.
His Oscar-winning main theme for “Chariots of Fire” beat John Williams’ score for Indiana Jones’ 1982 directorial debut. It reached the top of the US billboard and was a lasting hit in Britain, where it was used during the London 2012 Games. Olympic Medal Ceremonies.
True to form, Vangelis was sleeping soundly in London when the result was announced on March 29, 1982 – his 39th birthday.
“I was out late to celebrate,” he later told People magazine.
His work on more than a dozen soundtracks included Costa-Gavras’ “Missing”, “Antarctica”, “The Bounty”, “1492: Conquest of Paradise”, Roman Polanski’s “Bitter Moon” and the epic of Oliver Stone “Alexander”.
Vangelis readily admitted to the Los Angeles Times in 1986 that “Half the movies I see don’t need music. It sounds like something embedded”.
He also wrote music for theater and ballet, as well as the 2002 FIFA World Cup anthem.
Born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in the central Greek coastal town of Agria, near Volos, Vangelis was a child prodigy, giving his first piano concert at the age of six, although he never took formal lessons. .
“I never studied music,” he told the Greek magazine Periodiko in 1988, in which he also lamented the growing “exploitation” imposed by the studios and the media.
“Once there was madness… now it’s a job.”
“You could sell a million records and still feel like a failure. Or you could sell nothing and feel very happy,” he said.
After studying painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts, Vangelis joined popular Greek rock band The Forminx. But the success was interrupted in 1967 by the arrival of a military junta which suppressed freedom of expression.
Trying to make it to England, he got stuck in Paris during the 1968 student movement and joined fellow Greek expats Demis Roussos and Lucas Sideras to form the progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child.
The group achieved cult status, selling millions of records with hits such as “Rain and Tears” before disbanding in 1972. Both Vangelis and Roussos went on to successful solo careers.
Moving to London in 1974, Vangelis established Nemo Studios, the “sound laboratory” which produced most of his solo albums for over a decade.
But he enjoyed his independence from record sales.
“Success is treacherous”
“Success is sweet and treacherous,” the lion-maned composer told the Observer newspaper in 2012. “Instead of being able to move on freely and do what you really want, you get stuck and forced to repeat yourself.”
In a 2019 interview with the Los Angeles Times, the composer said he saw parallels to the dystopian world portrayed in “Blade Runner” for which he also wrote a score.
“When I saw images, I understood that this was the future. Not a bright future, of course. But this is where we are going,” he said.
Vangelis, who had a minor planet named in his honor in 1995, had a fascination with space from an early age.
“Every planet sings,” he told the LA Times in 2019.
In 1980, he contributed music to Carl Sagan’s award-winning science documentary Cosmos. He wrote music for NASA’s Mars Odyssey 2001 and Juno Jupiter 2011 missions, as well as a Grammy-nominated album inspired by the Rosetta space probe mission in 2016.
In 2018 he composed a piece for Stephen Hawking’s funeral which included the words of the late professor and was broadcast into space by the European Space Agency.
Vangelis has received the Max Steiner Award for Film Music, the French Legion of Honor, the NASA Public Service Medal, and Greece’s highest honour, the Order of the Phoenix.
Later, Vangelis moved between homes in Paris, London and Athens, carefully guarding her privacy. Little is known about his personal life.
“I don’t give interviews, because I have to try to say things that I don’t need to say,” he told the LA Times in 2019.
“The only thing I need is to make music.”
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