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Vangelis, famed film composer and synth pioneer, dead at 79

The popular composer died in a hospital in Paris of heart failure.
Georges Bendrihem
/
AFP via Getty Images
The popular composer died in a hospital in Paris of heart failure.

Composer Vangelis, who gave the movie Chariots of Fire its signature synth-driven sound, has died. He was 79 years old. According to his assistant Lefteris Zermas, Vangelis died on the May 17 in a hospital in Paris, due to heart failure.

Vangelis was born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in the Greek town of Agria. He was a self-taught musician who became a young piano prodigy. Then he moved to Paris and co-founded the popular prog-rock group Aphrodite's Child. The band eventually split and Vangelis got a solo record deal with RCA Records.

In 1981 he composed the score for Chariots of Fire. Its opening theme, with its uplifting inspirational swell and ornate arrangement, was released as a single and reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100. His efforts earned him a win for best original score at the Academy Awards.

The success led him to other film work. Notably, he composed the soundtrack for the original Blade Runner, as well as Carl Sagan's PBS documentary series Cosmos. Outside of composing scores, Vangelis was prolific in his solo career, regularly releasing albums up until last year's Juno to Jupiter.

While he was most associated with the synthesizer, the instrument was also a source of frustration for him. "I've been using synthesizers for so many years, but they've never been designed properly. They create a lot of problems." he told NPR in 2016. "The computers have completely different logic than the human logic." So for his 2016 record Rosetta, dedicated to the space probe of the same name, he simply built his own synthesizer.

Vangelis had a lifelong interest in space which was reflected in his music — in its breadth and atmosphere. He believed that there was something inherent in humans to want to discover — whether that meant up in the sky or in a studio. For Vangelis, becoming a musician was never a conscious decision. "It's very difficult not to make music," Vangelis told NPR in 1977. "It's as natural as I eat, as I make love. Music is the same."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.