An Olympian Effort by Composer Vangelis Ends in An Oscar Score for 'chariots'

UPDATED 04/19/1982 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 04/19/1982 at 01:00 AM EST

It was about 8 p.m. in Los Angeles and nearly everyone at the Academy Awards was dressed to the nines as Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire received an Oscar for Best Original Score. But its composer, Vangelis, was in London, where it was 4 a.m. and he was dressed to the zeros, in nothing but his beard. He was asleep, in fact, when a congratulatory call came from a friend in L.A. "I'd been out late celebrating my birthday," recounts Vangelis, 39. "Over the phone I could hear the television and a big party in the background. This incredible thing was going on and I was in bed."

Not that he was indifferent. "It's hard being nominated because it makes you tense," confesses the Greek-born composer. "Whether you want it or not, it's a competitive situation, which is against art and creation."

He's still not sold on Hollywood: "I don't know how much is art and how much is a money machine." When Chariots producer David Puttnam signed him in 1980, Vangelis, who has had dozens of hit records in Western Europe with his electronic instrumental, had never scored a major film. He took the job because "it's a nice, healthy, pure film. I like the Olympic Games and I did it for fun." Well, not only fun. He admits his up-front fee for the project was hardly "bottom of the heap," and he gets royalties from the Chariots single and album which have raced into the Top 5 on U.S. pop charts.

Christened Evangelos Papathanassiou and raised in Athens, Vangelis (his stage name is a diminutive of his given name) took to the piano at 4 and at 18 got a Hammond organ, which he painted gold. "It was my first relationship with an electronic instrument," he says. It wasn't his last. He became a keyboard wizard in the '60s with the flamboyant European rock bands Formynx and Aphrodite's Child. "That enormous success was like a vaccine for me," he says. "I don't need that kind of stardom anymore."

Since 1974 he has lived in a Queen's Gate flat with his longtime girlfriend, Veronique Scavinsca, 34, a professional photographer. His cavernous studio, where he scored the Costa-Gavras film Missing and where he is finishing the sound track for Ridley Scott's $30 million futuristic thriller Blade Runner, used to be a Church of England school. Most of his compositions are first-take improvisations. "I work like a bridge between nature and what comes out through my fingers," he philosophizes. "With my synthesizers, I have a lover relationship."

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