'Twin Peaks' and David Lynch film composer Angelo Badalamenti dies at 85

Angelo Badalamenti at the David Lynch Foundation Music Festival in Los Angeles (April 1, 2015)
Angelo Badalamenti at the David Lynch Foundation Music Festival in Los Angeles (April 1, 2015)   -   Copyright  Chris Pizzello / AP Photo
By Theo Farrant  & AP

Angelo Badalamenti, the composer best known for creating otherworldly scores for many of David Lynch's films, from Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks to Mulholland Drive, has died. He was 85.

He died on Sunday (11 December 2022) of natural causes, surrounded by family at his New Jersey home. 

The classically trained composer also worked with a wide mix of singers and musicians in virtually every genre during his long career, from Nina Simone, David Bowie, Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney to Pet Shops Boys and LL Cool J. 

Musical beginnings

Chris Pizzello/AP
Angelo Badalamenti performs at the David Lynch Foundation Music Celebration at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on April 1, 2015Chris Pizzello/AP

Born in Brooklyn, New York in March 1937 to a fish market owner father with a musical background (a percussionist in Sicily), Badalamenti grew up listening to Italian opera with his family, started piano lessons at age 8 and went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. 

After college he taught middle school. He composed a Christmas carol for his students that ended up on the US Public Broadcasting Service and essentially launched his career in entertainment, where he wrote songs for Nina Simone (Another Spring) and Nancy Wilson (Face It Girl, It’s Over). 

He also wrote songs for films such as Gordon’s War and Law and Disorder but his big break came in 1986 when, through a series of industry connections starting with unit manager Peter Runfolo, he was asked to help Isabella Rossellini sing Blue Velvet for iconic American director David Lynch’s film.

“They were shooting down in North Carolina, and so they flew me down to meet with Isabella and to see what I could do. When I got there, we went into a little room with just Isabella and me and a piano. I worked with her for two or three hours straight until we got a good take on a small recorder,” he said in an interview with Culture.org. 

“David was shooting the last scene. We brought him the cassette tape. He put on his earphones and right away said, “That’s the ticket! This is peachy keen!” I had to ask the line producer what peachy keen meant.”

World fame

A couple of years later, the composer was already working on the score for the mysterious noir drama Twin Peaks. 

Lynch, in a conversation with Badalamenti, described his vision of the world of Twin Peaks, and he began to play the chords that became famous.

“David felt that the music of Twin Peaks would have to cover a lot of ground, a wide range of moods: sadness, passion, ecstasy, love, tenderness, and violence. He wanted the music to be dark and abstract,” he said. “He asked me for music that would tear the hearts out of people.”

Badalamenti also recalled the first time he played Lynch the music: "The notes just flowed by themselves ... David was stunned, as was I. The hairs on his arms stood on end, and tears stood in his eyes." 

Badalamenti worked with other directors too, including Jane Campion (Holy Smoke!), Danny Boyle (The Beach) Paul Schrader (The Comfort of Strangers) and Walter Salles (Dark Water). 

In 1992, he also wrote the melody for the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics. 

In 2013, Badalamenti composed the musical arrangement for Fyodor Bondarchuk's film "Stalingrad", based on the novel "Life and Fate" by Vasily Grossman.

But it’s his work with Lynch that hovers above them all, which would include The Straight Story, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive.

“He’s got this musical soul, and melodies are always floating around inside,” Lynch told People Magazine in 1990. 

“I feel the mood of a scene in the music, and one thing helps the other, and they both just start climbing.”