Sister speaks up after artists wrap album of late composer Saki Kaskas
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
Vancouver music man rose to prominence writing scores for EA's Need for Speed franchise before an accidental overdose took his life in November of 2016
Some day, people tell Sia Kaskamanidis, they will be sweet tears she sheds.
For now, 2½ years since her brother Theodosius’s accidental overdose on fentanyl-laced heroin, they are still tears of pain, of hurt, of survivor’s guilt and of why-him sadness.
Her brother was better known as Saki Kaskas, a legend in the video game industry who revolutionized music for sports games at Electronic Arts, most notably for the Need For Speed series, and at United Front Games.
A 14-song album containing Kaskas’s unfinished songs was released two weeks ago, produced by his longtime friend Jeff van Dyck, who collected 22 musicians from around the world to finish the project called, fittingly, Theodosius, a potpourri of songs ranging from heavy metal to classical, from jazz to pop to space music and alt rock.
“It’s so lovely we could do this for Saki,” his sister Sia said. “Saki worked on this the last two years of his life, it would have been so sad if it had been left behind. It means his spirit is still alive.”
Sia has gone public talking about her brother’s tragic end hoping to spare other families the pain hers has endured. Hers is a message of openness and acceptance.
“Stigma was a huge part of Saki’s passing away,” Sia said, sitting at Lonsdale Quay near her place of employment. “After Saki passed away I dove into his journals and emails. He was afraid to come out, he was afraid he would hurt us, his family.”
Kaskas was 45 when he died in November, 2016, his body undiscovered for five days. The coroner told Sia there were pamphlets and brochures for rehab and recovery spread over the counter in his Gastown condo.
Sia was there when members of the fire department finally smashed down the door that had reinforced security because of the expensive recording equipment inside.
The attending coroner emerged with the grim news and smelling like death, Sia said. No one had known.
In hindsight, there were warning signs galore: He’d quit the lucrative tech world to pursue his dream of composing and recording his own music; he’d sold his condo and moved to the edge of the Downtown Eastside; he began missing family functions, would disappear for days, wouldn’t answer his phone.
His hair became unkempt, his clothes sometimes dishevelled.
Apparent from his journal, Kaskas was now using to dull the pain of withdrawal; it was no longer about getting high.
“I thought it was depression, he wasn’t taking care of himself,” Sia said. “He really, truly wanted to put out this music, it was his lifelong goal.
“I thought it was just the way of a mad artist. I didn’t have the education to walk up and say, ‘Oh, you’re nodding off because you’re using, Saki.’ I had no idea what heroin was or why people did it or even about withdrawal.”
In fact, Kaskas had been a functioning heroin addict for 14 years. It was only during the last two that things spiralled out of control.
In his private journal, Kaskas was crying out for help.
“He was close, he was prepared to seek help, but he procrastinated,” Sia said. “It was a very dangerous time to be procrastinating because of the fentanyl. It was like playing Russian Roulette.”
Kaskas was born in Germany but his Greek parents moved he and his three elder sisters to Vancouver when he was an infant. The kids grew up in Dunbar and attended Prince of Wales Secondary, where Kaskas discovered The Who and Led Zeppelin.
He practised guitar for hours a day to play the music of Pete Townsend, Jimmy Page and his other guitar heroes, Sia said. He mastered a number of other instruments, built his own music box to make Noise Toaster space music.
And it paid off: Millions of people around the globe are familiar with his soundtracks, even Oprah Winfrey, who used one of his tunes. His longtime musical collaborator Rom Di Prisco has said he doesn’t exaggerate when he says Kaskas was the most talented musician he has ever known.
The album Theodosius is available online. Sia and her family suggest people donate to the Providence Crosstown Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital. There is a Saki Kaskas Music page on Facebookwhere donations can be made and the album downloaded.
“Talking about my brother’s passing is incredibly painful,” Sia said. “But I know deep down it is important. I used to be apathetic and judgmental, I knew nothing about heroin addiction.
“The social stigma, the judgment. That’s what addicts do not want, it just pushes them away. My family hopes other families can learn from this and understand the need for compassion and understanding.”