Irene Papas, perhaps one of the most important Greek actors of her generation, has died. The Greek actress and singer was born in Chiliomodi near Corinth and achieved a career spanning more than fifty years.
She gained international recognition through such popular award-winning films as The Guns of Navarone and Zorba the Greek.
In 2018, it was announced that Papas had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for five years since 2013. Since then, she lived away from the public eye.
Papas was born in 1926. Her mother was a teacher, and her father taught classical drama. According to Papas, she was fascinated by acting from a young age and preferred to act as a child while other children played.
Papas’ life changed when her family relocated to Athens when she was seven years of age. She immersed herself in acting and was in multiple plays in Greece. Most of the plays she was in could be considered “classics.” Ibsen, Shakespeare, and ancient Greek tragedies marked some of her first forays into the professional world of acting.
Irene Papas soon became a big name in Hollywood producers’ meetings. She attracted the attention of important American filmmakers, sowing the seed for her future as one of the most influential Greek actresses of all time. Papas was most well-known for her show-stopping performances in Greek tragedy-based films such as Antigone, Electra, and Iphigenia.
Irene Papas: Hollywood star
After Papas established herself as an extremely talented actress with a huge emotional range, she starred in a long list of Hollywood movies which made her a household name internationally.
Although her first American film, The Man from Cairo, was underwhelming, she quickly moved up the ranks in terms of productions. In Tribute to a Bad Man (1956), she played the female lead, Jocasta Constantine, alongside James Cagney.
She then began to take on larger roles in extremely successful movies such as The Guns of Navarone in 1961 and Zorba the Greek in 1964. Unfortunately, despite the commercial success of films that Papas was involved in, she was consistently underpaid and was often unemployed; for Zorba the Greek, she was incredibly paid only $10,000, and she could not find a role for eighteen months following her appearance in the movie.
Her personal life and dating history are often just as much a focus of conversation as is her career trajectory consisting of over seventy films. When she was only 21, she married for the first time to film director Alkis Papas. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last, and they got divorced only four years later in 1951.
Perhaps the most fascinating chapter of Papas’ romantic life came three years later in 1954. This is the year that Papas met the man she would later call the love of her life, when the young Greek actress began dating Marlon Brando.
“I have never since loved a man as I loved Marlon. He was the great passion of my life, absolutely the man I cared about the most and also the one I esteemed most, two things that generally are difficult to reconcile,” said Papas of the legendary actor of The Godfather.
However, people are less aware of another fascinating aspect of Papas’ life, which were her political views. Papas was a lifelong liberal, and in 1967, when the Greek military junta first came to power, she called for a “cultural boycott” against the “Fourth Reich.”
Her vehement public opposition to the regime meant that when the junta consolidated its power in 1967, Papas was sent into exile. She lived in Italy and New York during the Greek military dictatorship of the time before she was able to return to Greece in 1974.
Papas continued acting in Rome and internationally for years with her final appearance being in the 2003 Portuguese film A Talking Picture.
Watch the 1962 film Electra starring Irene Papas below: