You may not know the name Vangelis. But you probably remember the scene in Chariots of Fire in which a bunch of young men in white shorts and T-shirts run barefoot along the shores of the beach. Vangelis won the Oscar for his musical score of the movie mixing classical piano with synthesizer sounds. The iconic music would later become used for sporting events including the 1984 Winter Olympics.
The music and scene was such a pop cultural iconic image that movies such as Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation made references to it. In 1992, Duracell used the music in a battery featuring animatronic puppets runniung.
Born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in 1943, the Greek musician was already making progressive rock and scoring music for movies and had released many albums by 1980 when he was approached to score the movie about the 1924 Olympics.
Then, Hollywood called again, this time from Ridley Scott to compose the musical score for Blade Runner. While the sci-fi dystopia film noir thriller failed at the box office, it grew in popularity over the years. Part of the movie’s popularity is due to Vangelis’ score a beautiful blend of futuristic vibes and classic film noir beauty.
Vangelis may not have been as popular as other major film composers but he had his touch, the same way Bernard Hermann, John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Danny Elfman and Giorgio Moroder made movies better. Take out Vangelis’ music during Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in the Rain” death moment in Blade Runner and it loses a lot of his emotion.
Vangelis would later go score music for movies such as 1492: Conqeust of Paradise, Bitter Moon and Alexander While he didn’t have as big of success as with his later work, he reportedly scored dozens of movies, TV shows and TV movies. The American Film Institute would nominate both scores for Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner as the 25 greatest musical scores of all time.
He would later go on to score Mythodea for NASA for the Mars Odyssey mission and received the Public Service Medal in 2003. Very little is known about his private life as he kept it private. Following the 1967 coup in Greece, Vangelis tried to move to the United Kingdom but was denied entry. Instead, he woud spend the rest of the 1960s in Paris. He would finally move to London in 1974.
He was never married nor had any children saying that all the work he had to do as a musician, he couldn’t raise a child the right way it should be raised. On May 17, he passed away at the age of 79 reportedly of Covid-related issues.
While the popularity of Chariots of Fire has decreased over the years, its musical score will remain enternal. And after 40 years, Blade Runner is considered by so many people to be one of the best sci-fi and influential movies made in recent decades. And as younger film lovers discover it, they will surely discover Vangelis’ music.
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