Angelo Badalamenti, the Grammy-winning composer whose synthy soundtracks for Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet ushered dream pop into the mainstream, has died. Rolling Stone confirmed the composer’s death with his manager, Kraft-Engel Management. He was 85.
“Angelo Badalamenti was a composer, loving husband, father, and grandfather,” his family tells Rolling Stone via Kraft-Engel Management. “The family confirmed he passed away on Dec. 11, 2022 at 85 years old peacefully due to natural causes and was surrounded by his loving family. The family appreciates their privacy at their difficult time.”
“I’m so sad to hear of the passing of Angelo Badalamenti, the brilliant and talented maestro who was a master at setting a mood,” actor Kyle MacLachlan, who starred in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, wrote in a tweet. “His music is deeply engrained into the fabric of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, forever. Sending love to his family.”
The composer received widespread recognition in the mid-Eighties for his intriguing scores for David Lynch’s films that built on the legacy of Bernard Herrmann’s shadowy string arrangements with gauzy synths and expressionistic jazz outbursts. His work on Lynch’s Blue Velvet led to a collaboration with singer Julee Cruise, who died a few months ago, that set the tone for Lana Del Rey, Massive Attack, and Au Revoir Simone, among other acts. His theme for Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks won him a Grammy, while his scores for Mulholland Dr., The Straight Story, and various Twin Peaks sequels earned him Emmy, BAFTA, and Golden Globes nominations. His many scores also include National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Cabin Fever, Dark Water, and the theme to Inside the Actors Studio. He also composed the intro to the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992.
Outside of film composition, Badalamenti wrote or cowrote songs recorded by Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, and “Spanky” Wilson. In 1989, he and Lynch co-produced and cowrote Cruise’s debut LP, Floating Into the Night, which contained “Falling,” a version of the Twin Peaks theme with vocals. The track was a hit on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart and a Top 10 single in the U.K. The three artists followed it up in 1993 with The Voice of Love. That same year, he collaborated with thrash metallers Anthrax on “Black Lodge,” a song inspired by Twin Peaks.
Badalamenti also produced and cowrote all of Marianne Faithfull’s 1995 album, A Secret Life, providing suitably dramatic music for her recitations of poems by Dante and Shakespeare, as well as several original songs including the single “Bored by Dreams.” In 2018, Badalamenti and Lynch released their long-awaited, self-titled debut as Thought Gang, which blended their jazzy aesthetic with spoken word.
“The sounds that came out of Thought Gang were a cacophony,” Badalamenti told Rolling Stone. “It was an incredible, organized cacophony. The players all were one, feeding off each other.”
Before his career in film, Badalamenti — who was born in Brooklyn on March 22, 1937 — had studied composition, French horn, and piano at the Eastman School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. He taught music while also playing piano regularly at gigs. He entered Lynch’s orbit as a vocal coach for Isabella Rossellini on the set of Blue Velvet. The filmmaker liked what he heard.
“When the tape was finished, [David] took off his headphones and he said, ‘That’s the ticket. This is peachy keen,'” Badalamenti recalled in a 2014 Rolling Stone feature. “And I said to Fred [Caruso, producer], ‘What does that mean?’ You know, I’m from Bensonhurst — we don’t use those words. And then Fred responded, ‘He adores it.'” Badalamenti went on to score the picture, as well as several other Lynch films, as their working relationship blossomed.
Writing the theme to Twin Peaks was almost as surreal as one of Lynch’s scenes. “David said, ‘Start it off foreboding, like you’re in a dark wood, and then segue into something beautiful to reflect the trouble of a beautiful teenage girl,” Badalamenti recalled. “Then, once you’ve got that, go back and do something that’s sad and go back into that sad, foreboding darkness.’ Maybe it was luck, but literally, in one take, I translated those words into music.”
A few years ago, when Lynch and Badalamenti released their Thought Gang album, Lynch told Rolling Stone he hoped the collaboration would continue. “It was done a long time ago, and I would really like to do more work with him,” Lynch said. “The one thing we did I just really loved. … I can’t say enough good things about Angelo Badalamenti.”
The composer, too, knew that his collaboration with Lynch was special and appreciated how their legacy has continued. “Groups like Massive Attack, and people all the world, tell me, ‘Angelo, it’s amazing,'” he told Rolling Stone. “There’s something about the identity of the sound, or the kind of music. I could be in one room and my wife would have the TV on and I hear the background music and say, ‘Oh, my God, that’s something that I did with a couple of notes changed.’ … I think it’s flattering.”