Vangelis, 'Chariots of Fire' composer, dead at 79

The award-winning composer, born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, died at a French hospital in Paris, according to Greek media. A cause of death has not been released.

Vaneglis produced an Oscar-winning score for “Chariots of Fire.” He also produced the score for “Blade Runner” in 1982. 

Vangelis, a Greek composer of electronic music, has died at 79.

Vangelis, a Greek composer of electronic music, has died at 79. (Michael Putland/Getty Images)

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

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“Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer among us,” Mitsotakis tweeted.

“For the whole world, the sad news states that the world music firm has lost the international Vangelis. The protagonist of electronic sound, the Oscars, the Myth and the great hits,” the tweet continued.

The opening credits of “Chariots of Fire” roll as a bunch of young runners progress in slow motion across a glum beach in Scotland, as a lazy, beat-backed tune rises to a magisterial declamation. It’s one of the most instantly recognizable musical themes in cinema, and its standing in popular culture has only been confirmed by the host of spoofs it has sired.

Greek composer Vangelis produced music for "Chariots of Fire" and "Blade Runner."

Greek composer Vangelis produced music for “Chariots of Fire” and “Blade Runner.” (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The 1981 British film helped define Vangelis, but his initial encounter with success came with his first Greek pop band in the 1960s.

He evolved into a one-man quasi-classical orchestra, using a vast array of electronic equipment to conjure his enormously popular undulating waves of sound. A private, humorous man — burly, with shoulder-length hair and a trim beard — he quoted ancient Greek philosophy and saw the artist as a conduit for a basic universal force. He was fascinated by space exploration and wrote music for celestial bodies but said he never sought stardom himself.

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Still, a micro-planet spinning somewhere between Mars and Jupiter — 6354 Vangelis — will forever bear his name.

Born on March 29, 1943, near the city of Volos in central Greece, Vangelis, started playing the piano at age 4, although he got no formal training and claimed he never learned to read notes.

Vangelis performs on stage at Aan de Maas, Rotterdam, Netherlands, June 18, 1991.

Vangelis performs on stage at Aan de Maas, Rotterdam, Netherlands, June 18, 1991. (Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

“Orchestration, composition — they teach these things in music schools, but there are some things you can never teach,” he said in a 1982 interview. “You can’t teach creation.”

Vangelis later wrote music scores for Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982) and “1492: Conquest of Paradise” (1992), as well as for “Missing” (1982) and “Antarctica” (1983), among others.

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

Vangelis said he never experimented with his music and usually recorded everything on the first take.

Vangelis, a Greek composer of electronic music, surrounded by equipment at a venue in 1976.

Vangelis, a Greek composer of electronic music, surrounded by equipment at a venue in 1976. (Michael Putland/Getty Images)

“When I compose, I perform the music at the same time, so everything is live, nothing is pre-programmed,” he said.

The composer lived in London, Paris and Athens, where he bought a house at the foot of the Acropolis that he never dolled up, even when his street became one of the most desirable pedestrian walks in town. The neoclassical building was nearly demolished in 2007 when government officials decided that it spoiled the view of the ancient citadel from a new museum built next door but eventually reconsidered.

Vangelis received many awards in Greece, France and the U.S. Little was known of his personal life besides that he was an avid painter.

“Every day I paint and every day I compose music,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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