Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch’s composer on Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet and more, dies aged 85

<span>Photograph: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Angelo Badalamenti, the acclaimed composer who created haunting music for David Lynch projects including Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, has died at the age of 85.

Badalamenti died on Sunday of natural causes, surrounded by family at his New Jersey home, his niece told the Hollywood Reporter.

Lynch and Badalamenti would become close friends and collaborators, working together on Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway, The Straight Story and Mulholland Drive. Badalamenti also appeared on screen as the coffee-loving gangster Luigi Castigliane in Mulholland Drive, and played piano with Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet.

The classically trained musician also worked with the likes of Nina Simone, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Shirley Bassey, Marianne Faithfull, Liza Minnelli, Pet Shop Boys and LL Cool J over his varied career, and composed themes including Inside the Actors Studio and the torch theme for the 1992 Olympic Games.

On 1986’s Blue Velvet, his first collaboration with Lynch, he was brought in to work as a vocal coach for Rossellini. Lynch asked him to write a tune for the score, saying “let it float like the tides of the ocean, make it collect space and time, timeless and endless”, which became the song Mysteries of Love, performed by Julee Cruise. Eventually Lynch tasked him with writing the film’s score, asking for Badalamenti to be “like Shostakovich, be very Russian, but make it the most beautiful thing but make it dark and a little bit scary”.

Badalamenti wrote the music for most of Twin Peaks without having seen any of the footage. In 2018, Badalamenti recalled writing Laura Palmer’s Theme with Lynch: “David came to my little office across from Carnegie Hall and said, ‘I have this idea for a show, ‘Northwest Passage’ … he sat next to me at the keyboard and said, ‘I haven’t shot anything, but it’s like you are in a dark woods with an owl in the background and a cloud over the moon and sycamore trees are blowing very gently’ … he said, ‘A beautiful troubled girl is coming out of the woods, walking toward the camera …’ I played the sounds he inspired.

“The notes just came out. David was stunned, as was I. The hair on his arms was up and he had tears in his eyes: ‘I see Twin Peaks. I got it.’ I said, ‘I’ll go home and work on it.’ ‘Work on it?! Don’t change a note.’ And of course I never did.”

Badalamenti would receive a Grammy award and three Emmy nominations for his work on Twin Peaks, and the soundtrack went gold in 25 countries.

He would sometimes visit Lynch’s sets to play music live during filming so the actors “could feel the mood”. His intuition for reading atmosphere was of great inspiration to the film-maker, who told the New York Times in 2005: “I sit with Angelo and talk to him about a scene and he begins to play those words on the piano … when we started working together, we had an instant kind of a rapport – me not knowing anything about music but real interested in mood and sound effects. I realised a lot of things about sound effects and music working with Angelo, how close they are to one another.”

Born in Brooklyn in 1937, Badalamenti played piano and French horn as a teenager before heading to music school on a full scholarship. He graduated from the Manhattan School of Music in 1960. During college breaks, he would accompany performers at resorts in the Catskill Mountains. “I had to play a lot of the standards, so I learned quite a wide range of music,” he said in 2019. “I had to learn them very quickly, and learning so many different types of music was a tremendous help later on in my career.”

He eventually landed a job at a music publisher, which saw him write songs for artists including Shirley Bassey and Nina Simone, under the pen name Andy Badale. His first film score was for 1973’s Gordon’s War. His third film score was 1986’s Blue Velvet.

Angelo Badalamenti (at piano) and Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet.
Angelo Badalamenti (at piano) and Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Badalamenti, Lynch and Cruise put out two albums, 1989’s Floating into the Night and 1993’s The Voice of Love. He and Lynch also recorded a jazz album, Thought Gang, in the early 1990s, which wasn’t released for another two decades.

He would later work with Paul Schrader on The Comfort of Strangers, Forever Mine, Auto Focus and Dominion, Jean-Pierre Jeunet on The City of Lost Children and A Very Long Engagement, Jane Campion on Holy Smoke, Danny Boyle on The Beach and Eli Roth on Cabin Fever.

His music was used in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Secretary, the 2006 remake of The Wicker Man and A Late Quartet.

Badalamenti received a lifetime achievement award at the 2008 World Soundtrack Awards, and the prestigious Henry Mancini award in 2011, which was presented to him by Lynch.

He is survived by his wife Lonny and daughter Danielle.