Skip to main content

Vangelis Papathanassiou dead at 79

Vangelis
(Image credit: Vangelis)

Vangelis Papathanassíou, the Greek composer and musician, has died aged 79, his representatives have announced. The musician was being treated in a French hospital when he died.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted that Vangelis was “a pioneer of the electronic sound. He began his long journey on the Chariots Of Fire. From there he will always send us his notes.”

Best known for his work on the soundtracks to the hit film Chariots Of Fire (1981) and Blade Runner (1982), Vangelis was also a hugely successful solo artist as well as being known for his work with seminal Greek prog outfit Aphrodite's Child and his work with former Yes singer Jon Anderson.

Born in the Greek coastal town of Agria in 1943, the largely self-taught musician formed his first band, The Forminx, in 1963 at the age of 20 and followed that with the internationally successful Aphrodite's Child, who also featured vocalist Demis Roussos. After two albums of psychedelic pop – the band's debut single Rain And Tears was a top 30 hit in the UK in 1968, it was the band's third album 666, a concept album about the Book Of Revelation, which made the band a hit with serious-minded music fans, even though they had actually split up by the time of the album's release.

Vangelis regarded 1973's Earth as his first official solo album, although Fais Que Ton Rêve Soit Plus Long Que La Nuit was released in 1972, and soundtrack to the French nature documentary series L'Apocalypse Des Animaux appeared in 1970. Further solo albums such as Heaven And Hell (1975), Albedo 0.39, (1976) Spiral (1977) and Beaubourg enhanced the musician's reputation as a solo artist.

Vangelis turned down an offer from Yes to replace Rick Wakeman in the early 1970s but he later would work with Jon Anderson, who had cited Vaneglis as an influence on his debut solo album, 1976's Olias Of Sunhillow, in the successful Jon And Vangelis partnership. The duo's debut single I Hear You Now reached No. 8 in the UK singles chart in 1979 and the pair released four studio albums, Short Stories (1980), The Friends Of Mr. Cairo (1981), Private Collection (1983) and Page Of Life (1991).

Further soundtrack work to films such as The Bounty (1984) and 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) and solo albums such as Voices (1995) and Oceanic (1996) further cemented his reputation and a long-held fascination with outer space saw him work with the European Space Agency on 2016's Rosetta and he continued exploring his love of space on last year's Juno To Jupiter.

Vangelis wrote specially commissioned scores for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, and the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He also wrote music for ballet and theatre. He also enjoyed painting and held his very first art exhibition in 2003, aged 70, in Valencia, Spain.

The European Space Agency's Mark McCaughrean, who worked with Vangelis on the Rosetta album tweeted "Such sad news. Was thinking of Vangelis just yesterday, hoping to get back to Paris soon and spend one of those glorious nights exploring the universe together."

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock, as well as sleevenotes for many major record labels. He lives in North London and happily indulges a passion for AC/DC, Chelsea Football Club and Sydney Roosters.