Angelo Badalamenti, Who Composed Ethereal Scores for ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Blue Velvet,’ Dies at 85

He was one of David Lynch’s closest collaborators—and wrote one of TV’s most memorable themes

David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti and singer Julee Cruise
Filmmaker David Lynch, composer Angelo Badalamenti and singer Julee Cruise in 1989 Michel Delsol / Getty Images

Angelo Badalamenti, the renowned composer who wrote the haunting theme to filmmaker David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, scored Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, and collaborated with artists like Nina Simone and Nancy Wilson, died on December 11 at age 85.

He died of natural causes at his home in Lincoln Park, New Jersey, his niece Frances Badalamenti tells the Hollywood Reporter’s Mike Barnes. 

A few eerie, instantly recognizable notes kick off the theme to Twin Peaks, Lynch and Mark Frost’s cult TV drama that premiered in 1990. The number went on to win a Grammy that year for best instrumental pop performance.

In 2010, the Guardian music editor Ben Beaumont-Thomas hailed Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score, which also includes the haunting “Laura Palmer’s Theme,” as “the summit of TV soundtracks.”

“For the condemned characters of Twin Peaks, the music is not merely a decorative hood,” Beaumont-Thomas wrote, “it’s the scaffold from which they’re hanged.”

Born in Brooklyn in 1937, Badalamenti was a second-generation Italian-American. He began playing piano at age 8, according to the New York Times’ Anita Gates, and later “came to appreciate the piano when girls admired his playing.”

The young musician earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Manhattan School of Music, graduating in 1960. After briefly working as a seventh-grade teacher, Badalamenti was hired at a Manhattan music publisher. Some of his earliest songs include “I Hold No Grudge” (1965), which Nina Simone recorded, and “Face It, Girl, It’s Over” (1968), performed by Nancy Wilson.

His first job in film was scoring Gordon’s War in 1973. The next year, he scored the crime drama Law and Disorder, then focused on other projects for a decade before getting a call from Lynch.

Lynch was working on Blue Velvet (1986), and he called in Badalamenti as a vocal coach for his leading lady, Isabella Rossellini. His role quickly expanded; when Lynch asked him to write a song, the composer came back with “Mysteries of Love.” (Julee Cruise, who died earlier this year, was the vocalist.) Lynch decided to put the entire Blue Velvet score in Badalamenti’s hands, beginning a fruitful collaboration between the two artists.

In 2005, Lynch spoke with the Times’ Brian Wise about his and Badalamenti’s creative process.

“I sit with Angelo and talk to him about a scene, and he begins to play those words on the piano,” Lynch said. “Sometimes we would even get together and make stuff up on the piano, and before you know it that leads to the idea for a scene or a character.”

In addition to Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive (2001), Badalamenti also scored Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), Lost Highway (1997) and The Straight Story (1999), as well as the various iterations of Twin Peaks, including the 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and the 2017 reboot Twin Peaks: The Return.

He also wrote music for other directors’ movies, including A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), Naked in New York (1993) and The Wicker Man (2006). A number of famous singers—from David Bowie to Liza Minnelli—collaborated with him, as well.

In 2015, Badalamenti spoke to Spirit & Flesh magazine’s Yelena Deyneko about how he composed some of the early music for Twin Peaks. Lynch sat next to him at his keyboard and began describing the mood and creative vision for his show, and he improvised based on what he head.

“The notes just came out,” Badalamenti recalled. “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.”