Evangelos Papathanassiou, known professionally as Vangelis is a Greek musician and composer of electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, and orchestral music. He is best known for his Academy Award-winning score to Chariots of Fire, also composing scores for the films Blade Runner, Missing, Antarctica, The Bounty, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and Alexander, and the use of his music in the PBS documentary Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan.
Vangelis began his career working with several popular bands of the 1960s such as the Forminx and Aphrodite’s Child, with the latter’s album 666 going on to be recognized as a progressive-psychedelic rock classic. Throughout the 1970s, Vangelis composed music scores for several animal documentaries, including L’Apocalypse des Animaux, La Fête sauvage and Opéra sauvage; the success of these scores brought him into the film scoring mainstream. In the early 1980s, Vangelis formed a musical partnership with Jon Anderson, the lead singer of progressive rock band Yes, and the duo went on to release several albums together as Jon & Vangelis.
In 1981, he composed the score for the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. The soundtrack’s single, the film’s “Titles” theme, also reached the top of the American Billboard Hot 100 chart and was used as the background music at the London 2012 Olympics winners’ medal presentation ceremonies. Vangelis also received acclaim for his synthesizer-based soundtrack for the 1982 film Blade Runner.
Having had a career in music spanning over 50 years and having composed and performed more than 50 albums, Vangelis is considered to be one of the most important figures in the history of electronic music.
Evangelos Papathanassiou was born in Volos, Greece, on March 29, 1943. His nascent musical talent was recognized at an early age, but he refused to take piano lessons. After high school, he formed the early-’60s pop group Formynx, soon the most popular act in Greece. After achieving superstardom at home, Vangelis relocated to Paris in 1968, and was in France at the time of the student riots; unable to go back home, he formed the progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child with fellow Greek expatriates Demis Roussos and Lucas Sideras, soon scoring a major European hit with the single “Rain and Tears.”
After Aphrodite’s Child disbanded in 1972, Vangelis joined French filmmaker Frederic Rossif to compose the scores for the features L’Apocalypse des Animaux and La Fete Sauvage; his proper solo debut, Earth, followed in 1974, around the time he was rumored to be joining Yes. Although Vangelis did rehearse with Yes for a few weeks, he never officially joined their ranks; still, he became close friends with group vocalist Jon Anderson, a frequent collaborator in the years to follow.
Relocating to London, Vangelis established his own state-of-the-art recording studio, producing a steady flow of recordings including 1975’s Heaven and Hell, 1976’s Albedo 0.39, 1977’s Spiral, and 1978’s Beaubourg. Teaming with Anderson under the name Jon & Vangelis, he also scored a series of U.K. hits, including 1980’s “I Hear You Now” and the following year’s “I’ll Find My Way Home.”
“We are living in a cultural dark age of musical pollution.
You put the radio on, and five minutes later you need an aspirin.”
Vangelis’ international commercial breakthrough followed in 1982 when his score to Chariots of Fire earned the film one of its many Academy Awards; its theme song even cracked the Top Ten on the U.S. pop charts. That same year, he also created the powerful score to the cult classic Blade Runner, the beginning of a partnership with director Ridley Scott, which also yielded soundtracks to films including 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Vangelis also composed the music for a number of Jacques Cousteau documentaries in addition to maintaining his flourishing solo career, issuing acclaimed LPs including 1985’s The Mask, 1988’s Antarctica, and 1990s The City. In 1992, he was awarded the Chevalier Order of Arts and Letters, one of France’s most prestigious honors.