Covid fells Vangelis. Composed film score for cult classic “Blade Runner”

Lee Heidhues 5.23.2022

When I think of Vangelis I will always think of his score from the cult classic “Blade Runner”. I have viewed the Ridley Scott film several times in the theater and watched it countless times on DVD, and now streaming.

Vangelis soundtrack sets the tone for this dystopian futuristic tale which still resonates 40 years after its cinematic release in 1982. Absent Vangelis’ score I don’t know if “Blade Runner” would have its lasting impact.

Excerpted from Variety 5.19.2022

Vangelis, the electronic-music pioneer who won an Oscar for “Chariots of Fire” and composed such other landmark film scores as “Blade Runner,” died May 17 the Athens News Agency reported. He was 79. Greek media reports say he died in a French hospital while being treated for COVID-19.

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The Oscar for “Chariots of Fire” made him immediately bankable as a film composer. Ridley Scott hired him for his science-fiction film “Blade Runner” and Costa-Gavras engaged him for the Jack Lemmon drama “Missing,” both in 1982 and both nominated for BAFTA awards. The Mel GIbson remake of “The Bounty” followed in 1984.

The self-taught musician enjoyed a long career in European pop music before the magical textures and colors of his 1970s solo albums brought him to the attention of film and TV producers. The use of a track from his 1975 album “Heaven and Hell” as the theme for Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS series “Cosmos” brought his name and music into prominence in America.

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Harrison Ford and Sean Young in 1982 poster

But it was his music for the 1981 film “Chariots of Fire” that brought him worldwide fame. Producer David Puttnam made the unorthodox choice for his period sports drama after hearing Vangelis’s music for the French nature documentary “Opera Sauvage” and the studio album “China.”

He declined to attend the Academy Awards, where he won in March 1982. “They put a lot of pressure on me to go to America for the Oscar,” he told a British journalist at the time, “but I don’t like to be pushed, and especially for that. I hate the idea of competition.”

Subsequent scores, also for historical dramas, included Ridley Scott’s “1492: Conquest of Paradise” (1992) and Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” (2004), both less celebrated but still musically compelling for their mix of electronics with conventional orchestra and choirs. He also scored Roman Polanski’s erotic thriller “Bitter Moon” (1992).

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Vangelis was born Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou on March 29, 1943, and raised in Athens. A self-taught pianist, he formed a rock band, the Forminx, in 1963, playing pop music and Beatles covers, but began working on film scores and sessions a few years later. After relocating to Paris, in 1968 he formed the progressive-rock quartet Aphrodite’s Child with a group of Greek expatriates, including Demis Roussos. The group enjoyed chart success in several European countries, particularly the single “Rain and Tear.”

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After that group dissolved, he declined an offer to replace Rick Wakeman in progressive-rock legends Yes and instead focused on solo work and film scores. However, after moving to London in 1975, he began collaborating with Yes singer Jon Anderson, with whom he released four albums as “Jon and Vangelis” between 1980 and 1991, one of which reached the British top 5.

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Late Rutger Hauer with a fellow ‘Replicant’

Increasingly reclusive, he gave few interviews, preferring studio work to publicity and promotion. Yet in one 1980s interview, he said this: “People say that a synthesizer is a machine, not a natural sound. Everything is natural. The first instrument built – a flute or maybe a tom-tom – was a machine to create sound. Acoustical conventional instruments, like a guitar, are fantastic, but they are restricted and always give the same sort of sound. It allows us to go beyond what we have known. You can start from a beep, and develop a whole range of sounds with endless variations. It is incredible.”