Among her most famous performances is that of Penelope in The Odyssey and in the celebrated films 'The Guns of Navarone' and 'Zorba the Greek.' One of her last film appearances was in 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' in 2001 alongside Hollywood star Nicolas Cage.
The film world is in mourning over the death of Greek actress Irene Papas at the age of 96. This was announced by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, recalling that Papas in some 50 years of her career took part in more than 70 films. The actress “leaves behind a great cultural legacy,” it reads. Considered a quintessential symbol of Greek beauty and a celebrated representative of Mediterranean culture abroad, Irene Papas became internationally known for her acting skills and charismatic and dynamic presence. In her career she played important female roles in theater and film, fully embodying the power of ancient tragedy. Among her most famous performances is that of Penelope in The Odyssey and in the celebrated films ‘The Guns of Navarone’ and ‘Zorba the Greek.’ One of her last film appearances was in ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ in 2001 alongside Hollywood star Nicolas Cage. In 2018 it was announced that she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for five years. Papas was fluent in Italian, having played theater roles and made many films in our country to which she was particularly attached.
Born as Irene Lelekou on September 3, 1926, in the small village of Chiliomodi, near Corinth, she moved to Athens with her family when she was 7 years old. Her mother was a teacher and her father taught classical theater. Fascinated by acting from an early age, after studying at the Royal School of Dramatic Art in Athens Papas made her debut in classical theater acting in major ancient Greek tragedies such as Antigone, Electra and Iphigenia, took part in plays by Shakespeare and Ibsen. Hollywood cinema discovered her in the early 1950s, but big success did not come until 1961 with the famous ‘The Guns of Navarone’ with Gregory Peck and Antony Quinn. With the same Quinn he also starred in the equally famous ‘Zorba the Greek.’ He met his greatest success in his homeland in the film ‘Electra’ (1962) by Michael Cacoyannis. In cinema she worked successfully in Italy, where she starred in several films, including Aldo Fabrizi’s ‘Una di quelle’ (1953) and Steno and Mario Monicelli’s ‘Le infedeli’ (1953). In Europe she starred again in important films, such as ‘A ciascuno il suo’ (1967) by Elio Petri, ‘Z – L’orgia del potere’ (1969) by Costa-Gavras, ‘Cronaca di una morte annunciata’ (1986) by Francesco Rosi. On television famous was her portrayal of Penelope in the screenplay ‘Odyssey’ (1968). In 1987 she presided over the jury of the Venice International Film Festival. In 2009 she received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.
In private life, Papas married Greek director Alkis Papas at the age of 21. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last and they divorced only four years later in 1951. The most fascinating chapter in Papas’ romantic life came three years later, in 1954, when she met the man she would later call the love of her life: Marlon Brando. “Since then I have never loved a man the way I loved Marlon. He was the great passion of my life, absolutely the man I cared for most and also the one I esteemed most, two things that are usually hard to reconcile,” Papas said of the legendary actor of The Godfather. Of liberal political views, the celebrated Greek actress was a vehement opponent of the Colonels’ regime, so much so that during the dictatorship period she was sent into exile along with other artists, to Italy and New York. She returned to her native country only when the military junta fell in 1974.
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