Vangelis: Blade Runner music and Chariots of Fire composer Vangelis Papathanasiou dead at 79 - cause of death

Vangelis created many memorable songs during his life, including ‘Conquest of Paradise’

Vangelis, the 79-year-old Greek electronic composer who wrote the Oscar-winning score for Chariots Of Fire and the music for dozens of other films, documentaries, and TV shows, has died.

Greek media reported that Vangelis died in a French hospital on Wednesday (18 May).

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Here is everything you need to know about him.

Who was Vangelis?

Born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou near the city of Volos in central Greece on 29 March 1934, Vangelis began playing the piano at the age of four.

Throughout his career, he received no formal classical training, and claimed he had never learned to read notes.

He played in numerous bands and as a solo performer, and Vangelis' first taste of fame came in the 1960s with his first Greek pop band Forminx, which he formed in Athens with three friends while in his 20s.

After the group disbanded, he went on to write scores for several Greek films before co-founding Aphrodite's Child with another later-to-be internationally recognised Greek singer, Demis Roussos.

The progressive rock band had several European hits, and ‘666’, their final album from 1972, is still highly regarded.

Vangelis explored solo projects after Aphrodite's Child’s split, and he evolved into a one-man quasi-classical orchestra, conjuring up his popular undulating waves of sound with a vast array of electronic instruments.

He would frequently play alone on a bank of synthesisers, flipping switches and darting from one volume pedal to the next.

Greek musician and composer Vangelis in 1992 (Photo: GEORGES BENDRIHEM/AFP via Getty Images)

In 1974, he relocated to London, constructed his own studio, and began recording alongside Yes vocalist Jon Anderson, with whom he had numerous successes.

But it was his score for Chariots Of Fire, a 1981 film about two British runners in the 1920s, that gave him his big break.

The hallmark piece has served as the musical backdrop to countless slow-motion parodies - including a scene from 2003 comedy Bruce Almighty, this writer’s personal favourite - and is one of the hardest-to-forget film tunes in the world.

Vangelis went on to compose music for films such as Blade Runner (1982), 1492: Conquest Of Paradise (1992), Missing (1982), and Antarctica (1983), among others.

He refused many other offers for film scores, saying; ”Half of the films I see don’t need music. It sounds like something stuffed in.”

Interest in space

Vangelis was inspired by space exploration and composed music for celestial bodies, although he claimed he had no desire to achieve celebrity.

Hewas suspicious of record labels' handling of commercial success: “You find yourself stuck and obliged to repeat yourself and your previous success,” he said.

His fascination with science, particularly the mechanics of music and sound, and space travel led to pieces composed for NASA and the European Space Agency.

Vangelis wrote a musical tribute for physicist Stephen Hawking's funeral, which the ESA transmitted into space in 2018.

How did he die?

Vangelis died of heart failure on 17 May 2022, at the age of 79 in a Paris hospital.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and other government officials expressed their condolences.

Vangelis has also been acclaimed as a "genius" who “created music of extraordinary originality and power" by the worlds of music and film.

In a tribute posted on Instagram, French music composer Jean-Michel Jarre said: “We will all remember your unique touch and your moving melodies forever.

“You and I have always shared the same passion for synthesisers and electronic music since so long.”

Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren told his more than 1.6 million Twitter followers he was “sad” to hear the news.

He added: “I had the privilege to meet him in Paris last year.

“He was one of my heroes, a big inspiration and just a beautiful person. I still listen to his albums a lot.”