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Oscar-Winning Greek Composer Vangelis Has Died

PARIS – Vangelis Papathanassiou, best known internationally as Vangelis, passed away on May 17 at the age of 79, Kathimerini reported. He won the 1981 Academy Award for Best Original Score for the film Chariots of Fire. The film’s iconic theme also reached the top of the American Billboard Hot 100 chart and was used at the London 2012 Olympics during the winners’ medal presentation ceremonies.

Vangelis also scored Ridley’s Scott Blade Runner (1982) and wrote the music for several other films including Costa-Gavras’ Missing (1982), The Bounty (1984), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), and Oliver Stone’s Alexander (2004).

Vangelis’ career in music spanned over 50 years and with more than 50 albums composed, he is considered one of the most important figures in the history of electronic music.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and other government officials expressed their condolences Thursday. “Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer among us,” Mitsotakis tweeted.

Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou was born on March 29, 1943 in Agria, a coastal town in Magnesia, Thessaly, Greece, and raised in Athens, according to Keyboard Magazine. His father Odysseus, worked in property, was an amateur sprinter, and had a great love of music, Vangelis said in past interviews. He had a brother named Nikos.

Vangelis became interested in music at age four, composing on the family piano and experimenting with sounds. His parents signed him up for music lesson at age six, but Vangelis preferred to develop technique on his own.

Traditional Greek music was important during his childhood, though by age 12 he was interested in jazz and rock. By age 15, he was already forming rock bands with school friends.

He died on May 17 in a hospital in France where he was being treated for COVID-19, Greek media outlets reported.

Among his awards and honors, he received the Max Steiner Award in 1989. France made Vangelis a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1992 and promoted him to Commander in 2017, as well Chevalier de la Legion d’ Honneur 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, he was honored at the World Music Awards.

NASA conferred their Public Service Medal to Vangelis in 2003. The award is the highest honor the space agency presents to an individual not involved with the U.S. government. Five years later, in 2008, the board of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens voted to make Vangelis an Honorary Doctor, making him Professor Emeritus at their Faculty of Primary Education. In June 2008, the American Hellenic Institute honored 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 September 16, 2013, he received the honor of appearing on the Greek 80 cent postage stamp as part of a series on six distinguished living personalities of the Greek Diaspora. In May 2018, the University of Thessaly in Vangelis’ hometown of Volos awarded him an Honorary Doctorate degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The American Film Institute nominated Vangelis’ scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire for their list of the 25 greatest film scores.

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