Zorba the Greek actress Irene Papas has died aged 96

Irene Papas, a Greek actress best known for her role in the films Zorba the Greek, The Guns of Navarone and countless Greek tragedies, died Wednesday at the age of 96. The Greek Ministry of Culture confirmed the film icon’s death in a statement.

“Majestic, stately, dynamic, Irene Papas was the embodiment of Greek beauty on cinema screens and on stage, an international star who exuded Greekness,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said, according to the New York Times. “With the power of her talent and the charm of her personality, she conquered the cinema and theater world.”

Until now, the cause of Papa’s death is unknown, however, it was reported in 2018 that the actor had been living with Alzheimer’s disease for five years.

Papas was born Eirini Lelekou on September 3, 1926 in Chiliomodi, Greece and grew up in Athens. During her 50-year career, Papas starred in more than 70 films. She had her breakthrough in the 1961 war film The Guns of Navarone alongside the likes of Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn. She played a World War II resistance fighter named Maria Pappadimos, who made the difficult decision to shoot an unarmed woman for working for the Nazis.

Irene Papas, a Greek actress best known for her performances in "Zorba the Greek" and countless Greek tragedies, died Wednesday at the age of 96.
Irene Papas was a Greek actress best known for appearing in “Zorba the Greek” and countless Greek tragedies.
Getty Images

Papas famously starred in the 1964 hit “Zorba the Greek,” also with Anthony Quinn, in which she played a Greek widow who is stoned by her villagers for sleeping with the “wrong man.”

Irene Papas and James Cagney present "Homage to a Bad Man" (1956).

Irene Papas and James Cagney in Tribute to a Bad Man (1956).


Papas, a prominent figure in the Greek Communist Party, fled to Italy and then the United States in the 1960s after a far-right junta took control of her country.

Papas, a prominent figure in the Greek Communist Party, fled to Italy and then the United States in the 1960s after a far-right junta took control of her country.


Papas, Kirk Douglas and Alex Cord on the set of "The Brotherhood," Martin Ritt directs.

Papas, Kirk Douglas and Alex Cord on the set of The Brotherhood directed by Martin Ritt.


The playwright’s other films include Tribute to a Bad Man (1956) with James Cagney, Bouboulina (1959), Electra (1962), The Brotherhood (1968) with Kirk Douglas, political thriller Z (1969), Anna in a Thousand Days (1969) and Chronicles of a Death Foretold (1987). In one of her last film roles, Papas starred in Manoel de Oliveira’s A Talking Picture in 2003, opposite Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich.

The Athens-based Greek Film Center described Papas as “the greatest Greek international film star” and added that her “image is a timeless imprint of Greek female beauty”.

Papas in a scene from the film "The Trojan women" (1971).
Papas in a scene from The Trojan Women (1971).
Getty Images
Papas recites an ancient Greek poem in front of the Olympic flame on June 7, 1992 in front of the Acropolis in Athens.
Papas recites an ancient Greek poem in front of the Olympic flame on June 7, 1992 in front of the Acropolis in Athens.
AFP via Getty Images

In addition to her roles on the big screen, Papas rose to fame on Broadway for her roles in legendary Greek tragedies.

Her first Broadway appearance was in 1967’s That Summer – That Fall, based on Phèdre, in which she played a woman who has eyes for her stepson (played by Jon Voight). She portrayed Clytemnestra in a circle-in-the-square production of Iphigenia in Aulis and the titular infanticidal mother in Medea (1973). In The Bacchae (1980), she played Agave, who accidentally murders her son during a drug orgy. She also acted in film adaptations of many of her most famous plays, including Antigone (1961) and Electra (1962).

In 1971, she won the National Board of Review’s Best Actress award for her role as Helen of Troy in The Trojan Women, starring close friends Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave.

Papas was also a talented singer, notably collaborating with the late composer Vangelis on “Odes” (1979), Reuters reported. She also worked on 666, the controversial final studio album by Greek rock band Aphrodite’s Child.

Irene Papas in August 1996 in Athens, Greece.
Irene Papas In Athens, Greece, August 1996.
Gamma Rapho via Getty Images
Papas appeared in more than 70 films during her storied 50 year career.
Papas appeared in more than 70 films during her 50-year career.
Sygma via Getty Images

A prominent supporter of the Greek Communist Party, Papas’ left-leaning views forced her to flee to Italy and the United States from 1967 to 1974, when a far-right military junta ruled her homeland.

Papas has been married twice but had a heated affair with Oscar winner Marlon Brando, whom she first met in Rome in 1954 when she was 24 and he was 30.

“I’ve never loved a man like Marlon,” she told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in 2004 after Brando’s death. “He was the great passion of my life, absolutely the man I cared about the most and also the one I cherished the most, two things that are generally difficult to reconcile.”

Papas is survived by her two nephews.

With postal wires

https://nypost.com/2022/09/14/irene-papas-actress-from-zorba-the-greek-dead-at-96/ Zorba the Greek actress Irene Papas has died aged 96

Emma Bowman

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