Vangelis, the electronic composer who help take things mainstream with the Chariots of Fire theme, has died

His full name was Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou but the world knew him as Vangelis, the composer of electronic music. Born in Greece in 1943, he became a self-taught musician starting at age four. As an adult, he bounced between psych, synth-based music, jazz, and music with various ethnic flavours. There was music for ballet, theatre, more movies (including Blade Runner), and even a FIFA World Cup.

His biggest hit was the theme from the 1981 film Chariots of Fire when he beat out John Williams’ score for the first Indiana Jones movie. The win came on March 29, 1982, the day he turned 39. He didn’t see it happen on TV, though; he’d been out partying and had fallen asleep.

Listening to this theme now, it’s hard to explain how groundbreaking these sounds were in 1981. Synths were just moving from being monophonic (i.e. only being able to play one note at a time) to polyphonic (allowing them to play a proper chord.) The track has been used a billion times since then, including during the 2012 London Olympics.

Vangelis also partnered with some big rock names, including Jon Anderson of Yes in a group called Jon and Vangelis. A couple of songs from their one-and-only album were hits, including this MTV staple.

Vangelis died in a French hospital on May 18 at the age of 79. No cause of death was given.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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