Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou (Greek: Ευάγγελος Οδυσσέας Παπαθανασίου [eˈvaɲɟelos oðiˈseas papaθanaˈsi.u]; 29 March 1943 – 17 May 2022), known professionally as Vangelis (/væŋˈɡɛlɪs/ vang-GHEL-iss; Greek: Βαγγέλης [vaɲˈɟelis]), was a Greek musician, composer, songwriter and producer of electronic, progressive, ambient, and classical orchestral music. He was best known for his Academy Award-winning score to Chariots of Fire (1981), as well as for composing scores to the films Blade Runner (1982), Missing (1982), Antarctica (1983), The Bounty (1984), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), and Alexander (2004), and for the use of his music in the 1980 PBS documentary series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan.
Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou was born on 29 March 1943 in Agria, a coastal town in Magnesia, Thessaly, Greece, and raised in Athens. His father Odysseus worked in property and was an amateur sprinter; Vangelis described him as "a great lover of music". His mother Foteini Kyriakopoulou was trained as a soprano. Vangelis had one brother, Nikos. Vangelis developed an interest in music at age four, composing on the family piano and experimenting with sounds by placing nails and kitchen pans inside it and with radio interference. When he was six his parents enrolled him for music lessons, but Vangelis later said that his attempts to study "failed" as he preferred to develop technique on his own. He considered himself fortunate to have not attended music school, as he believed that it would have impeded his creativity. He never learned to read or write music, instead played from memory. "When the teachers asked me to play something, I would pretend that I was reading it and play from memory. I didn't fool them, but I didn't care". One of his piano teachers was Greek composer Aristotelis Koundouroff. In a 2008 interview, Vangelis stated that he had a peaceful and happy childhood and that his parents never interfered in his life, letting him to just be and be involved in his activities, mainly consisting of playing the piano, painting and constructing things with his hands.
In 1989 Vangelis received the Max Steiner Award. France made him a Knight of the Order of the Arts and Letters in 1992 and promoted him to Commander in 2017, as well as Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour in 2001. In 1993 he received the music award Apollo by Friends of the Athens National Opera Society. In 1995, Vangelis had a minor planet named after him (6354 Vangelis) by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center (MPC) at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; the name was proposed by the MPC's co-director, Gareth V. Williams, rather than by the object's original discoverer, Eugène Joseph Delporte, who died in 1955, long before the 1934 discovery could be confirmed by observations made in 1990. In 1996 and 1997, Vangelis received awards at the World Music Awards.
Vangelis found traditional Greek music as particularly important in his childhood, but at 12 developed an interest in jazz and rock. At 15, he started to form school bands, not to cover other musicians, but to have fun. Vangelis acquired his first Hammond organ at 18. In 1963, Vangelis and three school friends started a five-piece rock band The Forminx (or The Formynx), playing cover songs and original material largely written by Vangelis with English lyrics by radio DJ and record producer Nico Mastorakis. After nine singles and one Christmas EP, which found success across Europe, the group disbanded in 1966.
In 1968, the 25-year-old Vangelis wished to further his career and, amidst the political turmoil surrounding the 1967 coup, left Greece for London. He was denied entry into the UK and settled in Paris for the next six years. Later in 1968 he formed the progressive rock band Aphrodite's Child with Demis Roussos, Loukas Sideras, and Anargyros "Silver" Koulouris. Their debut single, "Rain and Tears", was a commercial success in Europe which was followed by the albums End of the World (1968) and It's Five O'Clock (1969). Vangelis conceived the idea of their third, 666 (1972), a double concept album based on the Book of Revelation. It is widely recognized as a progressive-psychedelic rock classic. After increasing tensions during the recording of 666, the group split in 1971. Vangelis would produce future albums and singles by their singer Demis Roussos. Vangelis recalled after the split: "I couldn't follow the commercial way anymore, it was very boring. You have to do something like that in the beginning for showbiz, but after you start doing the same thing everyday you can't continue."
From 1970 to 1974, Vangelis took part in various solo projects in film, television, and theatre. He composed the score for Sex Power (1970) directed by Henry Chapier, followed by Salut, Jerusalem in 1972 and Amore in 1974. In 1971, he took part in a series of jam sessions with various musicians in London which resulted in two albums released without Vangelis's permission in 1978: Hypothesis and The Dragon. Vangelis succeeded in taking legal action to have them withdrawn. 1972 saw the release of his debut solo album Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit, French for Make Your Dream Last Longer Than the Night. It was inspired by the 1968 French student riots, after which Vangelis decided to write a "poème symphonique" to express his solidarity with the students, comprising musical with news snippets and protest songs; some lyrics were based on graffiti daubed on walls during the riots. A soundtrack album of music that Vangelis performed for a 1970 wildlife documentary series by Frédéric Rossif was released as L'Apocalypse des animaux (1973). Vangelis also provided music for the Henry Chapier film Amore (1973).
In 1973, Vangelis released his second solo album Earth, a percussive-orientated album with various additional musicians, including Robert Fitoussi and Aphrodite's Child bandmate Silver Koulouris. The line-up performed and released a single titled "Who" in 1974 under the name Odyssey, including a concert that Vangelis held at the Paris Olympia in February 1974. Several months later Vangelis travelled to England to audition with the progressive rock band Yes, after singer Jon Anderson had become a fan of his music and invited Vangelis to replace departing keyboardist Rick Wakeman. After problems with obtaining a work visa and the Musician's Union, and his reluctance to travel and tour, Vangelis declined. The band hired Patrick Moraz, who used Vangelis's keyboards in his audition. In 1974, Vangelis left Paris for London as he "outgrew France".
Born in Agria and raised in Athens, Vangelis began his career in the 1960s as a member of the rock bands The Forminx and Aphrodite's Child; the latter's album 666 (1972) is now recognised as a progressive-psychedelic rock classic. Vangelis first settled in Paris, and gained initial recognition for his scores to the Frédéric Rossif animal documentaries L'Apocalypse des Animaux, La Fête sauvage, and Opéra sauvage. He also released his first solo albums during this time, and performed as a solo artist. In 1975, Vangelis relocated to London where built his home recording facility named Nemo Studios and released a series of successful and influential albums for RCA Records, including: Heaven and Hell (1975), Albedo 0.39 (1976), Spiral (1977) and China (1979). From 1979 to 1986, Vangelis performed in a duo with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson, released several albums as Jon and Vangelis. He also collaborated with Irene Papas on two albums of Greek traditional and religious songs.
Vangelis provided the score for Do You Hear the Dogs Barking? directed by François Reichenbach. This was released in 1975 and re-released two years later. In 1976 Vangelis released his second soundtrack for a Rossif animal documentary, La Fête sauvage, which combined African rhythms with Western music. This was followed in 1979 by a third soundtrack for Rossif, Opéra sauvage. Almost as well known as L'Apocalypse des animaux, this soundtrack brought him to the attention of some of the world's top filmmakers. The music itself would be re-used in other films, including the track "L'Enfant" in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) by Peter Weir; the melody of the same track (in marching band format) can also be heard at the beginning of the 1924 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies scene in the film Chariots of Fire while the track "Hymne" was used in Barilla pasta commercials in Italy and Ernest & Julio Gallo wine ads in the United States. Rossif and Vangelis again collaborated for Sauvage et Beau (1984) and De Nuremberg à Nuremberg (1989).
In August 1975, after Vangelis had settled in a flat in Marble Arch, London, where he set up his new 16-track studio, Nemo Studios, which Vangelis named his "laboratory", he secured a recording deal with RCA Records. He would release a series of electronic albums for RCA until 1979; the first, Heaven and Hell, features the English Chamber Choir and Yes singer Jon Anderson. Released in December 1975, Vangelis supported it with a sold-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1976. This was followed by Albedo 0.39 (1976), Spiral (1977), Beaubourg (1978), and China (1979), each having their own thematic inspiration including the universe, Tao philosophy, the Centre Georges Pompidou, and Chinese culture, respectively.
Vangelis collaborated in 1976 with italian singer Patty Pravo with the album Tanto and with italian singer Milva achieving success, especially in Germany, with the albums Ich hab' keine Angst also translated in french as Moi, Je N'ai Pas Peur (1981) and Geheimnisse in 1986 (I have no fear and Secrets), also translated in italian as Tra due sogni.
In 1979, Vangelis entered a collaboration with Yes singer Jon Anderson as the duo Jon and Vangelis. Their debut album, Short Stories (1980), reached No. 4 in the UK. They went on to release three more albums; The Friends of Mr Cairo, Private Collection, and Page of Life released in 1981, 1983, and 1991, respectively. They included hit singles "I Hear You Now", "I'll Find My Way Home" and "State of Independence", with the latter becoming a hit single for Donna Summer, produced by Quincy Jones.
In 1979, Vangelis released the album Odes, which included Greek folk songs performed by Vangelis and actress Irene Papas. It was an instant success in Greece and was followed by a second collaboration album, Rapsodies, in 1986. 1980 saw the release of the experimental and satirical See You Later.
In 1980, Vangelis agreed to record the score for Chariots of Fire (1981); he accepted because "I liked the people I was working with. It was a very humble, low-budget film." The choice of music was unorthodox as most period films featured orchestral scores, whereas Vangelis's music was modern and synthesiser-oriented. It gained mainstream commercial success which increased Vangelis's profile as a result. The opening instrumental title piece, "Titles", later named "Chariots of Fire – Titles", was released as a single which reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for one week after a five-month climb. The soundtrack album was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for four weeks and sold one million copies in the United States. In March 1982, Vangelis won an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score, but refused to attend the awards ceremony, partly due to his fear of flying. He turned down an offer to stay in a stateroom aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 for a boat crossing. Vangelis commented that the "main inspiration was the story itself. The rest I did instinctively, without thinking about anything else, other than to express my feelings with the technological means available to me at the time". The song was used at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
In 1981, Vangelis collaborated with director Ridley Scott to score his science fiction film, Blade Runner (1982). Critics have written that in capturing the isolation and melancholy of Harrison Ford's character, Rick Deckard, the Vangelis score is as much a part of the dystopian environment as the decaying buildings and ever-present rain. The score was nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe award. A disagreement led to Vangelis withholding permission for his recordings to be released, so the studio hired musicians dubbed the New American Orchestra to release orchestral adaptations of the original score. After 12 years, Vangelis's own work was released in 1994 but is considered incomplete as the film contained other Vangelis compositions that were not included. In 2007, a box set of the score was released to commemorate the film's 25th anniversary, containing the 1994 album, some previously unreleased music cues, and new original Vangelis material inspired by Blade Runner.
The success of Chariots of Fire led to further offers for Vangelis to score films, but he avoided becoming "a factory of film music". In 1981, he scored the documentary film Pablo Picasso Painter by Frédéric Rossif. It was the third such score by Vangelis as he'd previously scored documentaries about Georges Mathieu and Georges Braque. He composed the score of Missing (1982) directed by Costa-Gavras, which was awarded the Palme d'Or and gained Vangelis a nomination for a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music. Other Vangelis film soundtracks produced during this time include Antarctica for the film Nankyoku Monogatari in 1983, one of the highest-grossing movies in Japan's film history, and The Bounty in 1984. He declined an offer to score 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984), the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In the early 1980s Vangelis began composing for ballet and theatre stage plays. In 1983 he wrote the music for Michael Cacoyannis' staging of the Greek tragedy Elektra which was performed with Irene Papas at the open-air amphitheater at Epidavros in Greece. The same year Vangelis composed his first ballet score, for a production by Wayne Eagling. It was originally performed by Lesley Collier and Eagling himself at an Amnesty International gala at the Drury Lane theatre. In 1984 the Royal Ballet School presented it again at the Sadler's Wells theatre. In 1985 and 1986, Vangelis wrote music for two more ballets: "Frankenstein – Modern Prometheus" and "The Beauty and the Beast". In 1992, Vangelis wrote the music for a restaging of the Euripides play, Medea, that featured Irene Papas. In 2001 he composed for a third play which starred Papas, and for a version of William Shakespeare's The Tempest staged by Hungarian director György Schwajdas.
Vangelis released Soil Festivities in 1984. It was thematically inspired by the interaction between nature and its microscopic living creatures; Invisible Connections (1985) took inspiration from the world of elementary particles invisible to the naked eye; Mask (1985) was inspired by the theme of the mask, an obsolete artefact which was used in ancient times for concealment or amusement; and Direct (1988). The last of the aforementioned efforts was the first album to be recorded in Vangelis's post-Nemo Studios era.
Carl Sagan's TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980) uses several pieces composed by Vangelis during the 1970s, including the series' opening theme, the third movement of Heaven and Hell. In 1986, Vangelis was actively involved in the composition of new music for a special edition. Vangelis recalled that Sagan had sent him recordings of some sounds collected by satellites, which were exactly what he heard as a child.
Vangelis performed his only concert in the U.S. on 7 November 1986 at Royce Hall on the campus of University of California, Los Angeles. It featured a special guest appearance by Jon Anderson.
There were another five solo albums in the 1990s; The City (1990) was recorded during a stay in Rome in 1989, and reflected a day of bustling city life, from dawn until dusk; Voices (1995) featured sensual songs filled with nocturnal orchestrations; Oceanic (1996) thematically explored the mystery of underwater worlds and sea sailing; and two classical albums about El Greco – Foros Timis Ston Greco (1995), which had a limited release, and El Greco (1998), which was an expansion of the former.
In 1992, Paramount Pictures released the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise, also directed by Ridley Scott, as a 500th anniversary commemoration of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World. Vangelis's score was nominated as "Best Original Score – Motion Picture" at the 1993 Golden Globe awards, but was not nominated for an Academy Award. Due to its success, Vangelis won an Echo Award as "International Artist Of The Year", and RTL Golden Lion Award for the "Best Title Theme for a TV Film or a Series" in 1996.
In 2001, Vangelis performed live, and subsequently released, the choral symphony Mythodea, which was used by NASA as the theme for the Mars Odyssey mission. This is a predominantly orchestral rather than electronic piece that was originally written in 1993. In 2004, Vangelis released the score for Oliver Stone's Alexander, continuing his involvement with projects related to Greece.
The Sport Aid (1986) TV broadcast was set to music specially composed by Vangelis. He conceived and staged the ceremony of the 1997 World Championships in Athletics which were held in Greece. He also composed the music, and designed and directed the artistic Olympic flag relay portion ("Handover to Athens"), of the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. While no official recording of this composition exists, the music can be heard accompanying the presentation of the emblem of the 2004 Athens Games. In 2002, Vangelis created the official Anthem for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. His work from Chariots of Fire was heard during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. His work Conquest of Paradise (1992) (from the movie 1492: Conquest of Paradise) is now the theme song of famous Trail Running competition Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
Although a very private person, according to many accounts he was an "inordinately approachable", "really nice" and "humorous" man, who enjoyed long friendly gatherings, was fascinated by Ancient Greek philosophy, the science and physics of music and sound, and space exploration. His daily activities mainly involved combining and playing his electronic instruments and the piano. He also enjoyed painting. His first exhibition, of 70 paintings, was held in 2003 at Almudin in Valencia, Spain. It then toured South America until the end of 2004.
NASA conferred their Public Service Medal to Vangelis in 2003. The award is the highest honour the space agency presents to an individual not involved with the American government. Five years later, in 2008, the board of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens voted to award Vangelis an honorary doctoral degree, making him a professor emeritus at their Faculty of Primary Education. In June 2008, the American Hellenic Institute honoured Vangelis with an AHI Hellenic Heritage Achievement Award for his "exceptional artistic achievements" as a pioneer in electronic music and for his lifelong dedication to the promotion of Hellenism through the arts. On 16 September 2013, he received the honour of appearing on the Greek 80 cent postage stamp, as part of a series of six distinguished living personalities of the Greek Diaspora. In May 2018 the University of Thessaly in Vangelis's hometown of Volos awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in electrical and computer engineering.
For a musician of his stature, little was known about Vangelis's personal life and he rarely gave interviews to journalists. In 2005, he stated that he was "never interested" in the "decadent lifestyle" of his band days, choosing not to use alcohol or other drugs. He also had little interest in the music industry business and achieving stardom, realising "that success and pure creativity are not very compatible. The more successful you become, the more you become a product of something that generates money". Instead, he used it to be as free and independent as possible and often rejected the opportunity to promote or capitalise on his fame.
Vangelis's place of residence was not publicly known; instead of settling in one place or country, he chose to "travel[ed] around". He did own a house by the Acropolis of Athens which he did not renovate. Vangelis did not have children; in 2005, he was in his third long-term relationship and said: "I couldn't take care of a child in the way I think it should be taken care of." Other interviews mention that Vangelis had been married twice; one of these marriages was to French photographer Veronique Skawinska, who produced work for some of his albums. A 1982 interview with Backstage suggests that Vangelis was previously married to Greek singer Vana Veroutis, who provided vocals for some of his records.
Vangelis released two albums in 2007; the first was a 3-CD set for the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner, titled Blade Runner Trilogy and second was the soundtrack for the Greek movie, El Greco directed by Yannis Smaragdis, titled El Greco Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.
On 11 December 2011, Vangelis was invited by Katara's Cultural Village in the state of Qatar to conceive, design, direct, and compose music for the opening of its outdoor amphitheater. The event was witnessed by a number of world leaders and dignitaries participating in the 4th Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations held in the city of Doha. British actor Jeremy Irons performed in the role of master of ceremonies, and the event featured a light show by German artist Gert Hof. It was filmed for a future video release by Oscar-winning British filmmaker Hugh Hudson.
In 2012, Vangelis re-tooled and added new pieces to his iconic Chariots of Fire soundtrack, for use in the same-titled stage adaptation. He composed the soundtrack of the environmental documentary film Trashed (2012) directed by Candida Brady and starring Jeremy Irons. A documentary film called Vangelis And The Journey to Ithaka was released in 2013. He also scored the music for the film Twilight of Shadows (2014) directed by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina.
For the 12 November 2014 landing of the Philae lander on Comet 67P (part of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission), Vangelis composed three short pieces titled "Arrival", "Rosetta's Waltz", and "Philae's Journey". The pieces were released online as videos accompanied by images and animations from the Rosetta mission. He was quoted by ESA as saying, "Mythology, science and space exploration are subjects that have fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow with the music I write". In September 2016, the works were released as part of the new studio album Rosetta. In 2018, Vangelis composed an original score for Stephen Hawking's memorial. While Hawking's ashes were interred at Westminster Abbey, the music which backed Hawking's words were beamed by the ESA to the nearest black hole to Earth. It was a personal tribute by Vangelis, and a limited CD titled "The Stephen Hawking Tribute" was shared with the family and over 1,000 guests.
On 25 January 2019, a new studio album, Nocturne: The Piano Album, was released which includes both new and old compositions played on a grand piano and were "inspired by night time, and by Vangelis's long-held passion for space". However, Vangelis recalled he was kind-of pressured by the record company to release it and include old compositions. In the same year, Vangelis wrote an electro-orchestral score rooted in ethnic music for The Thread, a modern dance piece created by Russell Maliphant inspired by Greek mythology and Hellenic dances. It received very positive reviews, and its CD & DVD was released in a special limited edition by Andromeda Music. On the Maliphant's project he also collaborated with fashion designer Mary Katrantzou for whom composed new music for her fashion shows.
On 24 September 2021, Vangelis released Juno to Jupiter, his last studio album. It was inspired by NASA's Juno spacecraft, featuring the soprano Angela Gheorghiu on several tracks.
Vangelis died of heart failure on 17 May 2022, at the age of 79, at a hospital in Paris. He was suffering from several health issues in the last couple of years and allegedly died of COVID-19 complications, according to a number of reports.