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Telly Savalas’ Family Honored With Greek Citizenship in LA

Telly Savalas
Telly Savalas as Theo Kojak from the premiere of the television program Kojak. Public Domain

The family of late Greek American actor Telly Savalas, best known for portraying Lt. Theo Kojak on the crime drama series Kojak (1973–1978), were awarded Greek citizenship at the Consulate of Greece in Los Angeles, USA.

The recipients were the eldest daughter of Savalas, Christina Savalas Koussakis, her husband, John Peter Koussakis, and their children.

The Consulate General, in a Facebook post, referred to a moment of which the Greek-born actor would have been proud:

“Another successful case of awarding Greek citizenship to Ms Christina Savalas Kousakis, daughter of the renowned Greek-American actor Telly Savalas, her husband, the acclaimed producer and director Mr John Peter Kousakis, and their children. We warmly welcome you all to the extended Greek family! Kojak would be very proud!”

“Today all the Kousakis’ took an oath of loyalty to the country of Greece. It was a three year journey tracing our grandparents from Greece to New York, Texas and California. It was such a wonderful experience to document their lives and in turn ours. We are not only of Greek heritage but citizens of Greece, Christina Savalas Kousakis wrote on Facebook.


Telly Savalas’ rise from polishing shoes to Kojak

Savalas was born Aristotle Tsavalas (later Savalas) in New York in 1922 and passed away in Los Angeles in 1994 after a battle with cancer.

He was the second of five children of Nikos and Christina Tsavalas, Greek immigrants from Laconia. His father owned a restaurant in New York.

Savalas and his brother, Gus, sold newspapers and polished shoes to help support the family. Savalas initially spoke only Greek when he entered grade school but later learned English.

He began working for the US State Department during World War II, broadcasting the series Voice of America and then for the ABC News channel.

His acting career started later after the age of 35. He married three times and had six children: Christina, Penelope, Candice, Nicola, Christian and Ariana, who is a singer and songwriter.

Throughout his career, he performed in several TV series and movies, including playing James Bond archvillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

However, the role that dominated his career and led him to stardom was portraying Lt. Theo Kojak on the crime drama series Kojak.

Kojak differed from the lighthearted detective shows prevalent at the time. It presented a grittier, more realistic portrayal of crime and police work with complex characters and morally ambiguous situations. This paved the way for shows like Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice, which further explored these elements.

Telly Savalas‘ portrayal of Lieutenant Theo Kojak, a bald, lollipop-sucking detective, was highly unique and instantly recognizable. His catchphrase, “Who loves ya, baby?” became ingrained in popular culture and transcended the show itself.

The show was critically acclaimed, winning two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series and several others for its acting, writing, and directing. This recognition validated the show’s innovative approach and quality.

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