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Oscar-winning legendary Greek composer Vangelis dies in France

The global artist whose creations include the iconic music for the films Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner had an apartment in Paris

Greek composer Vangelis composed some of the film world’s most famous music, including the score of the 1982 classic Blade Runner Pic: Kraft74 / Shutterstock

The Greek composer, Vangelis – best known for his Oscar-winning music for the film Chariots of Fire, and Blade Runner – has died in France at the age of 79.

Vangelis, full name Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, also composed the music for the film 1492: Christopher Columbus, the 2002 World Cup song, and a track that was used during the London 2021 Olympic Games.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis confirmed his death on Twitter. 

He wrote (in Greek): “Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer with us. The music world has lost [international artist] Vangelis.”

The composer, who was famously private, had an apartment in Paris, and divided his time between the capital, London, and Athens.

Several Greek media outlets have reported that he died of Covid-19.

Mr Mitsotakis added: “For us Greeks, this means that he has begun his great journey on the chariots of fire. From there, he will always send us his notes.”

Vangelis was self-taught and often said that he found inspiration in space, nature, futuristic architecture, and the student protest movement of 1968.

He composed the score or contributed to the music for several major movies, including Costa-Gavras' Missing, Roman Polanski's Honeymoon, and Oliver Stone's Alexander. 

His soundtrack for Chariots of Fire won an Oscar in 1982, winning out against John Williams’ score for the first Indian Jones film.

Vangelis also wrote music for theatre and ballet, and for the FIFA World Cup in 2002. He was a member of the Cannes festival jury in 1991, under the presidency of director Roman Polanski, alongside US actor Whoopi Goldberg and director Jean-Paul Rappeneau.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni, paid tribute to him, saying: "His mastery and thunderous inspiration in creating totally original sounds created a global audience.”

Vangelis was born in a small Greek village in 1943, and gave his first piano concert aged just six, without having had any lessons. He later confirmed he “had never studied music”, despite his success.

He went on to study painting at the School of Fine Arts in Athens, and joined the Greek rock group Forminx in the 1960s, whose success was limited in 1967 by the military junta. 

He later tried to reach the UK, but became stuck in Paris during the May 1968 movement, and formed the prog-rock group Aphrodite’s Child with two other Greeks, Demis Roussos, and Lucas Sideras. The group went on to sell millions of records before splitting up in 1972. 

Vangelis later went to London and set up his music studio Nemo.

The composer could be philosophical in interviews.

He once said: “Success is sweet and treacherous. Instead of being able to move forward freely and do what you really want to do, you get stuck and forced to repeat yourself.”

Later, in a 2019 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said he could see parallels in the modern world with the dystopia depicted in Ridley Scott's 1982 classic Blade Runner. 

He said: "When I saw the images, I realised that this was the future. Not a good future, of course, but that's where we're headed.”

Vangelis was also fascinated with space and had a planet named after him in 1995. In 1980 he took part in the music for the award-winning scientific documentary Cosmos, and in 2019 he wrote “each planet sings” in his journal.

He also wrote music for NASA, and one of his albums was inspired by sounds from the Rosetta spacecraft mission in 2016. This album was later nominated for a Grammy award.

In 2018, he composed a piece for Stephen Hawking's funeral, with lyrics that included the famous professor's last words. 

Vangelis also received the Max Steiner Film Music Award, the Légion d'honneur accolade in France, the NASA Public Service Medal, and Greece's highest honour, the Order of the Phoenix.

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