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WWII Entertainer, Orthodox Archon Nicholas Royce Dies at 96

Nicholas Royce
Archon Nicholas Royce, a talented dancer and choreographer who entertained many thousands of troops in WWII, died recently at age 96. Credit: Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Nicholas Royce, an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who entertained troops in WWII, died recently in Northridge, California at the age of 96.

A professional dancer, choreographer, and philanthropist, Royce was born Nicholas Vlangas in Pennsylvania to Greek immigrant parents from Sparta, Greece.

His family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, when Nick was young, where he made his professional dancing debut at the tender age of 14 at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Changing his last name to Royce when he began his career, he eventually became a well-known famous dancer and choreographer.

Royce entered the armed services as soon as he graduated from high school. He was talented that he was sent to entertain over 75,000 GIs in hospitals and on military bases in the United States and Japan. He was at that time known as the “Greek Fred Astaire in GI clothing.”

He became one of the best-known dancers in the entertainment world in the 1940s and 1950s as the head of the Nicholas Royce Dancers, even appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Milton Berle Show.

Being an Orthodox Christian was one of the great joys of Royce’s life; he was made an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on March 3, 1985 after his life of service to the Church. His activism for the Church began as far back as WWII, when he was dismayed to see that Eastern Orthodoxy was omitted from the religious preferences on military dog tags in that era.

After a letter-writing campaign for the inclusion of Orthodoxy, it was finally listed amongst the religious preferences of members of the military.

His activism was recognized by Congress much later, with his campaign entered into the United States Congressional Record on February 6, 2008 by Congressman Howard L. Berman. The entry is titled “Fifty Years and Still Fighting the Good Fight.”

For this and all his other contributions to Orthodoxy, Royce was invested in the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle as an Archon, the highest honor a layman can have within the Church. The members of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle are dedicated defending the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Devoting himself to a range of other human rights issues over the years, he was commemorated by the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center in 1996 when it added “The Nicholas Royce Papers” to its archives.

Feeling indebted to women who had supported him in his various causes throughout his life, Royce joined organizations such as Women in Film, the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, and American Women in Radio & Television as a way to support them in their long struggle for equal treatment in the entertainment business.

“I’ve always been an activist and maybe I’m a feminist. Besides, women have helped me during my life and I think I can help them by participating in their organizations,” Royce told the Los Angeles Times in an interview in 1989.

Remaining a fixture in the entertainment industry for decades, Royce was named as a member of several organizations, including the Television Academy, as part of which he served as a judge for the annual Daytime and Primetime Emmy Awards.

In 2004, Royce received the Southern California Motion Picture Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the entertainment industry and the performing arts.

He was also was a member of the Jazz Society of Los Angeles.

Related: Nicholas Royce’s profile by Los Angeles Press Club

Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, the National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew, released a statement on Royce’s death, saying “It is with a heavy heart that we share the sad news of the passing of Archon Nicholas Royce, a true Defender of the Faith. On behalf of the Order of Saint Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate we express our deep sympathy to his family with abiding faith in our Lord and Savior and with hope in His resurrection!”

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