Vangelis, composer for ‘Chariots of Fire’ about 1924 Paris Olympics, dies at 79


Vangelis, the Greek electronic composer who wrote the unforgettable Academy Award-winning score for the film “Chariots of Fire” about the 1924 Paris Olympics and music for dozens of other movies, documentaries and TV series, has died at 79.

The opening credits of “Chariots of Fire” roll as a bunch of young runners progress in slow motion across a glum beach in Scotland, as a lazy, beat-backed tune rises to a magisterial declamation.

The setting was West Sands Beach, next to the Old Course at St. Andrews. The Old Course hosts the 150th Open this July, two years before Paris hosts the Olympics for the first time since 1924.

It’s one of the most instantly recognizable musical themes in cinema — and its standing in popular culture has only been confirmed by the host of spoofs it has sired, including by British actor Rowan Atkinson at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

“Chariots of Fire,” which won the 1982 Academy Award for Best Picture, was based on the true stories of 1924 British Olympic sprinters Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. Abrahams took 100m gold and 4x100m silver in Paris. Liddell earned 400m gold and 200m bronze.

“Simple film,” Vangelis later said of “Chariots,” according to the book, “Vangelis: The Unknown Man.” “I knew [director] Hugh Hudson. I like the Olympic Games. It was not a success-oriented film, nothing spectacular. What happened after, you know, but no one could know at the time. T’was good.”

Later, in a 2008 sitdown interview, Vangelis said he no longer wanted anything to do with the Olympics because they became too commercialized.

“We don’t have Olympic Games anymore, real Olympic Games,” he said. “We have something else that we call Olympic Games, but it’s not what I believe, what I think the Olympic Games meant to be.

“The only point of reference that’s left to humanity today, the gathering together every four years in a ‘peaceful’ way, is the Olympic Games. This may be an opportunity every four years for every company … to make fortunes and to push the Olympic Games artists, the athletes, to push them to advertise their products. That’s what it is. Nothing else. … We all need money, but there are some moments we have to function without this money need or philosophy.”

Vangelis also performed a concert at the 1896 Olympic Stadium — Panathenaic Stadium — for the opening ceremony of the 1997 Athens World Track and Field Championships.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.