Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassiou was born in 1943 in Greece. He started learning to play the piano at four, inspired by his father's love of music. He began scoring work early, working on three Greek movies in the mid-1960s whilst recording with the band The Forminx. In 1967 he relocated from Athens to Paris and co-founded the group Aphrodite's Child, which enjoyed moderate success and a critical hit with the 666 album in 1972. He began a solo career and continued scoring European films, as well as nature documentaries. In 1974 he auditioned to replace Rick Wakeman in the progressive rock band Yes, but ran into visa problems. Although he never joined the band formally, he did work alongside various Yes bandmembers on later projects.
In 1975 he relocated to London and continued to release solo material at an impressive clip throughout the rest of the decade, as well as continuing to work on more documentary soundtracks. His work on Opera Sauvage (1979) was particularly praised, raising his profile considerably. In 1980, Carl Sagan's hugely influential television series Cosmos used a number of Vangelis compositions from throughout his career, including an extract from "Heaven and Hell" as its main theme.
Vangelis had his biggest career breakthrough when he was asked to compose the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire (1981). His main theme tune for the film became a huge worldwide success, hitting #1 on the US Hot 100 chart. The soundtrack album sold a million copies in the USA by itself. The following year he won an Academy Award for the soundtrack, but his fear of flying meant he did not attend the ceremony.
Vangelis was flooded with offers for work, but turned most of them down, fearing becoming typecast only as a film composer. He returned to working on documentaries and only on films which he felt intellectually stimulated him, such as the Japanese film Nankyoku Monogatari (1983). Another such film was Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), where his work hugely praised. However, a legal dispute meant that his soundtrack was not formally released until 1994.
Vangelis also composed the soundtracks to 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), Alexander (2004) and El Greco (2007). In 2012 he collaborated on the score for Chariots of Fire: The Play.
He continued to produce solo albums and contribute to projects that interested him, such as a soundtrack for the 2001 NASA Odyssey mission to Mars. His most recent solo album was Juno to Jupiter, released in 2021.
A titan of electronic music and the composer of two of the greatest movie scores of all time, Vangelis will be missed.