'Chariots Of Fire' And 'Blade Runner' Composer Vangelis Has Died At 79

Mason Joseph Zimmer
Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou also known as Vangelis as a younger man
Getty Images | Michael Putland

Music legend and synthesizer pioneer Vangelis — best known for composing the Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner soundtracks — has passed away at the age of 79.

We've often heard that we don't know what we've got until it's gone and sadly, that is often true of the people whose hard work filled us with wonder. Usually, that's because they didn't snag the spotlight on their own and preferred to work behind the scenes but some popular favorites that will always give us comfort wouldn't have existed without them.

And while Vangelis enjoyed a great deal of success as a composer, it's entirely possible to hear some of his most iconic work without knowing much about the man behind it.

So today, we honor Vangelis and the great contributions he's made to the worlds of music and cinema.

Born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in Agria, Greece, Vangelis was a mostly self-taught musician who gained early renown as a piano prodigy.

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou also known as Vangelis as a younger man
Getty Images | Michael Putland

That information comes courtesy of NPR, who noted that he moved to Paris and co-founded a popular progressive rock band called Aphrodite's Child in the late 1960s.

But as The Guardian noted, he had developed scores for Greek films in the years before moving to France and became bored with the world of commercial pop after his band broke up.

And while he certainly had the skills to form a symphony orchestra, the BBC reported that he found that avenue too limiting as well and decided to return to crafting movie soundtracks.

Although synthesizers also caused enough frustrations for him that he would later create his own in 2016, they helped him achieve his visions in ways that traditional instruments couldn't.

runners sprinting in dash event in Chariots of Fire
youtube | Warner Home Video

And while he worked steadily through the 1970s, his early adoption of synths would lead to some of his most successful and enduring work in the '80s.

This included his uplifting piano-based theme for the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire, which both earned Vangelis an Academy Award and became the go-to choice for slow-motion sports montages even decades later.

As he once put it, "My music does not try to evoke emotions like joy, love, or pain from the audience. It just goes with the image, because I work in the moment."

Harrison Ford pointing gun as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner
youtube | Warner Home Video

And that creative style would prove particularly effective in his similarly iconic score for the cult sci-fi classic Blade Runner released the following year.

Along with capturing the sinister yet futuristic feel of that film's vision of Los Angeles, this score would only take on more meaning for him as the years went on.

As he said in 2005, "It has turned out to be a very prophetic film – we’re living in a kind of Blade Runner world now."

And while he would continue scoring films and releasing solo albums as the decades pressed on, his work on "Chariots of Fire" would also yield him opportunities to soundtrack the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou or Vangelis wearing a suit and backpack
Getty Images | Georges Bendrihem

A major source of inspiration in the latter years of his life seemed to be outer space, which makes his final album Juno to Jupiter a fitting coda to his legendary career.

Upon his death by heart failure in Paris, Vangelis was immediately honored by classical composers and trance DJs alike.

In the words of acclaimed French musician and similar synth pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre, "We will all remember your unique touch and your moving melodies forever."

h/t: BBC, The Guardian, NPR