Melina Mercouri (1920 - 1994)

Melina Mercouri
1920 - 1994
updated August 16, 2020
Melina Mercouri was born on October 10, 1920 at Athens, Greece. She had sibling Spiros. She married Jules Dassin. Melina died on March 6, 1994 at New York City at 73 years old.

Melina Mercouri, the vivacious actress with a husky laugh who went on to become Greece's Minister of Culture, died yesterday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Miss Mercouri, whose greatest screen success was her role as a flamboyant prostitute in the 1960 film "Never on Sunday," was 68, her family said, although references disagree on the year of her birth.

The cause was complications from lung cancer, said Patricia Turi, a hospital spokeswoman. Miss Mercouri was hospitalized in early February and underwent surgery on Feb. 23 to remove cancerous tissue, but her conditioned deteriorated on Saturday because of an infection, Ms. Turi said.

Coming from a politically prominent family, the actress was a passionate anti-Fascist who lost her citizenship and property in 1967 for her aggressive opposition to the junta that held power in Athens for seven years, until 1974. She then speedily returned home and entered politics, winning election to Parliament in 1977 as a Socialist. Miss Mercouri was appointed Culture Minister in 1981 after the Socialists won a landslide victory. She served in the post until 1989, when her party lost power, and then returned when the party was re-elected in October.

"Never on Sunday," the story of a nurturing trollop who refused to work more than six nights a week, established Miss Mercouri as an international star. The movie was directed by Jules Dassin, her close companion and later her husband. Mr. Dassin, the son of a New York barber, fled to Europe after being blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1950's.

Mr. Dassin directed, and often wrote and produced, most of Miss Mercouri's nearly 20 other movies, including "He Who Must Die" (1957), about life overtaking a Passion play in a primitive village on Crete; Mr. Dassin co-adapted the story from the novel "The Greek Passion," by Nikos Kazantzakis. Other joint efforts included "Phaedra," a 1961 tale of a woman lusting for her stepson, and "A Dream of Passion," a 1978 variation of Medea's child-murders. Both were based on, or inspired by, ancient Greek dramas.

Their other team efforts included "Topkapi," a well-regarded 1964 museum-theft caper; "10:30 P.M. Summer," a 1966 story of a descent into alcoholism, and "Promise at Dawn" (1970), from a memoir by Romain Gary about his unconventional mother.

Miss Mercouri conquered Broadway in a 1967 musical adaptation of "Never on Sunday" titled "Illya Darling," prompting Walter Kerr of The New York Times to hail her as "a creature you'd be happy to take home to mother, if mother was out." Politics and Pacifism

The outspoken actress and politician with a flashing smile and feline movements was a favorite of interviewers, who called her a charming, forceful and quotable woman very much in love with life. She spoke French, German and English, as well as Greek.
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Melina Mercouri Biography

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Melina Mercouri
Most commonly known name
Female
Gender
Melina
First name
Unknown
Middle name
Unknown
Maiden name
Mercouri
Last name(s)
Melina Mercouri
Nickname(s) or aliases
Unknown. Did Melina move a lot? Where was her last known location?
Last known residence
Melina Mercouri was born on at Athens, Greece,
Birth
Melina Mercouri died on at New York City,
Death
Melina Mercouri was born on at Athens, Greece,
Melina Mercouri died on at New York City,
Birth
Death
There is no cause of death listed for Melina.
Cause of death
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Burial / Funeral

Ethnicity & Lineage

Greek.

Nationality & Locations Lived

Unknown

Religion

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Education

Greece.

Professions

Of her return from exile, she remarked in 1988: "It became impossible not to interfere in politics. When you are born Greek, you are always in a state of alert about social things." She was also a pacifist, declaring in her 1971 autobiography, "I Was Born Greek," that the "quickest way to get disarmament is if John and Jean and Ivan refuse to pay one penny's tax" for weapons.

Asked about feminism, she replied: "I have never been discriminated against. I have made my life as a woman, and that's not bad." Of marriage, she remarked: "If you take a European woman's husband, she has nothing. But if you take an American husband, you make the wife rich." As for love, she commented: "All any woman wants is to sleep with a man. It is simple. Life is simple."

Maria Amalia Mercouri was born in Athens on Oct. 18, 1925, the daughter of a longtime Minister of the Interior and the granddaughter of a much-admired, longtime Mayor of Athens, who nicknamed her Melina, meaning honey, the usual color of her hair in later years.

Her family's home was open to people from all classes, from scholars to beggars, and meals were shared by up to 100 guests. The wide-ranging contacts and conviviality made her an egalitarian and gave her a liberal education while she resolved to be an actress.

Her parents opposed her acting, so, at 17, she eloped with Panayiotis Characopos, an elderly, wealthy Athenian sympathetic to her study of classical Greek tragedy at the National Theater Academy. After three years of preparation, she went on the Athens stage, won increasingly big parts and was acclaimed in the leading roles in "Mourning Becomes Electra" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." She also starred on the Paris stage and made her film debut as a doomed cabaret entertainer in "Stella," a 1955 melodrama directed by Michael Cacoyannis.

A major turning point occurred at the 1956 Cannes International Film Festival, where she met Mr. Dassin. Though married to others, they immediately forged a deep personal and professional partnership. They were married a decade later.

Miss Mercouri was widely praised for her Madonna-prostitute role in "He Who Must Die" and, three years later, for her hedonistic prostitute in "Never on Sunday," for which she won an award as best actress at Cannes and an Academy Award nomination.

Her other films included "The Gypsy and the Gentleman" (1958), "Where the Hot Wind Blows" (1959), "The Victors" (1963), "A Man Could Get Killed" (1966), "Gaily Gaily" (1969) and "Nasty Habits" (1976). Reviewers repeatedly hailed her performances as exuberant, but sometimes extravagant and overwrought.

In her political career, she represented the working-class district of Piraeus, the port of Athens, which had been the setting for "Never on Sunday." She kept an office there, meeting with constituents twice a week and discussing problems dealing with Government services and women's issues. "I like myself better now," she said in 1978. "It feels better to care about other people's interests -- to be involved."

Through the 1980's, Miss Mercouri often made headlines because of her obsessive effort to regain for Greece the Elgin Marbles of the Acropolis. The sculptures were bought from the Turkish ruler of Greece in the early 1800's by a British ambassador, Lord Elgin, and later placed in the British Museum. As Minister of Culture, she also strove to revive classical Greek culture by increasing Government subsidies for the arts, building provincial libraries and pressing for the preservation of historic monuments.

In exile, Miss Mercouri and her husband lived mainly in Paris. In later years, their main home was in Athens, and they had a vacation home on the Greek island of Spetsai.

She is survived by her husband and by a brother, Spiros Mercouris.

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Melina Mercouri Family Tree

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Melina Mercouri & Jules Dassin

Melina Mercouri

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Dec 18, 1911 - Mar 31, 2008

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Amanda S. Stevenson
10.5k+ favorites
Melina Mercouri
Biography
Date of Birth 18 October 1920, Athens, Greece
Date of Death 6 March 1994, Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Birth Name Maria Amalia Mercouri
Nickname The Last Greek Goddess
Height 5' 6½" (1.69 m)

Melina Mercouri was born in Athens, Greece on October 18, 1920. An early woman activist, she was elected to the Greek Parliament in 1977. Later Miss Mercouri was to become the first woman to hold a Senior cabinet post "Minister of Culture" in the Greek government. In 1971 she wrote her autobiography titled "I Was Born Greek." Melina wed actor Jules Dassin in 1966 and remained married to him until her death in 1994. Melina Mercouri died of lung cancer in New York City, on March 6, 1994.

When she starred in her first film Stella (1955), under the direction of Mihalis Kakogiannis, she was 35 years of age. Her real stardom came under the direction of her husband Jules Dassin and the film Never on Sunday (1960) (Never on Sunday (1960))5 years later, when she was 40 years old. The most famous Greek producer Filopoimin Finos had never accepted her as a film star, because of her big mouth. So, when he rejected the opportunity to co-produce Never On Sunday, he lost the big opportunity to expand in the international market. Finos had also rejected her for the main role of Lily of the Harbor (1952), later played by Eleni Hatziargyri, a Karolous Koun student, as Melina was. Her film that came after Never On Sunday, Phaedra (1962) was a modern adaption of Euripides' classic tragedy named "Ippolytos".Anthony Perkins and 'Phaedra (1962)' were her costars, Mikis Theodorakis wrote the excellent music, Jules Dassin directed her once more. Although the film flopped miserably in USA it was a big hit in many European countries, and it was the reason that Anthony Perkins become a superstar in Europe. She co-starred with the excellent Ellen Burstyn in Jules Dassin's A Dream of Passion (1978), but as Melina's biography by Frida Bioumpi notes Melina did not enjoy her collaboration with the Oscar winner actress. She was nominated for an Oscar for Never on Sunday, but it was Elizabeth Taylor's year in Hollywood. She won the Cannes Prize, a Prize she happily shared with the famous Jeanne Moreau. She was also nominated for a Cannes prize in 1955 in Cacoyiannis' Stella. She did not win, as no prize was given to an actress that year. But Isa Miranda one of the judges gave her one prize, named Isa Miranda prize. She asked that her theatrical dressing room in the Greek National Theatrical Museum will be set next to that of her good friend and actress Ellie Lambeti, who had died from cancer few years earlier than Melina.

Spouse (2)
Jules Dassin (18 May 1966 - 6 March 1994) (her death)
Panos Harokopos (1941 - 1962) (divorced)

She was the step-mother of the famous French singer Joe Dassin.
Received the Women's International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award in 1991.
Melina Mercouri was personal friend of the Prime Minister of Greece Andreas Papandreou, the Nobel prize winner poet Odysseas Elytis, the Oscar Winning composer Manos Hatzidakis, the famous authors Terence McNally and Vasilis Vasilikos. She also admired very much the leader of the Conservative party, Konstantinos Karamanlis.
Melina had beside her bed the photograph of her great friend Anthony Perkins, and co-star in Phaedra (1962). She said that the only problem that the famous star had, was his taste for milk.
Melina died from complications from lung cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, NYC. She was hospitalized in early February 1994 and underwent surgery on February 23 to remove cancerous tissue, but her conditioned deteriorated on March 5 because of an infection.
Another festival was presented in Greece in 2002 honoring the couple Melina Mercouri-Jules Dassin, and including all favorites movies of the two stars, like Never on Sunday (1960), Topkapi (1964), etc.
Melina met Jules Dassin in Cannes during the screening of her first film Stella (1955).
Melina, as a Minister of Culture, was one of the creators of the European Capital of Culture insitution, which recognizes a city of Europe as the centre of many cultural festivities, every 4 years
All the records were prohibited by the military dictatorship in Greece and were very popular after the dictatorship was gone. Melina was also heard in LPs by Manos Hatzidakis, with music from her films Stella (1955), Never on Sunday (1960), Topkapi (1964), and in Mikis Theodorakis's Phaedra (1962) where she was singing with her co-star Anthony Perkins.
During the seven years of her exile in France, 1967-1974, Melina Mercouri recorded some highly popular records for UNIVERSAL, named 'Melina Mercouri', 'L oeillet rouge', 'si Melina m etait contee', 'Je suis Grecque' including famous Greek and French songs.
The studio wanted the team of 'R Dassin'-Mercouri to create a sequel to Never on Sunday (1960) named "Illya goes to New York", but both the actress and the director refused and made Phaedra (1962), a commercial flop.
Melina claimed that her lucky number was 18, because Dassin was born on 18th of December, her grandfather, the mayor of Athens, Spyros Merkouris was born on 18th of June, and she met Jules Dassin in Cannes on May 18th 1955.
Melina's and Jules Dassin's film Topkapi (1964) was the inspiration for the TV series Mission: Impossible (1996), which was produced by the production company Desilu owned by Lucille Ball, and it was even mentioned in the film Mission: Impossible (1996) starring Tom Cruise.
Melina's greatest dream as a politician was the return of the marbles of the Parthenon, known as the Elgin marbles, back in Greece. Now they are in the British Museum.
When she was asked who she would like to be if she was not Melina Mercouri, she answered that she wanted to be either Greta Garbo or Dolores Ibárruri.
In 1953, Ellie Lambeti gave to Melina Mercouri the award "Marika Kotopouli" for best female performance in the theater.
Melina was the stepmother of three children, all by Jules Dassin. The names of the children are Julie Dassin, Richelle and Joe Dassin, who was a famous French singer, but died very young.
Melina's father was a member of Parliament from the age of 22, and her Grandfather was Mayor of Athens
Melina was interred at 1st Cemetery of Athens, Greece, near to her grandfather and Mayor of Athens, Spyros Merkouris.
Was nominated for Broadway's 1968 Tony Award as Best Actress (Musical) for "Illya, Darling," a musicalization of the film Never on Sunday (1960) in which she played the same role.
A member of the Pan-Hellenic Socialist movement.
Elected to the Greek Parliament in 1977.
Served as Greece's Minister of Culture from 1981 to 1990.
Ran for mayor of Athens in 1990, but was defeated.
On a almost unknown record LP with music by Yannis Markopoulos for the even less known movie "L'Anniversaire" by the in 2007 deceased French filmmaker Pierre Jourdan (sleeve notion "Une production TF1 - 1982 EMI Greece - Pathé Marconi - EMI", Melina Mercouri performs on two tracks: on side 1 track 6 (3'22) titled "La Paix" (The Peace), she recites a beautiful poem by Yannis Ritsos, and on side 2 track 1 (3'55) titled "Giortazo 18 Octovri" (L'Anniversaire), Melina sings on lyrics by L. Papadopoulos.
Suffered from claustrophobia.
She and Jules Dassin lived together for nearly 10 years before marrying in 1966.
Personal Quotes (1)
"I was born Greek and I would die Greek. Mr. Pattakos was born a dictator and he will die as a dictator." Her reply to the fact that the Military dictatorship in Greece (1967-1974) in Greece had proclaimed that she was no longer a Greek citizen.
Jul 27, 2017 · Reply
Amanda S. Stevenson
10.5k+ favorites
I met her when she did ILYA DARLING on Broadway. She couldn't have been nicer to me. I went to Greece many years later and had a great time. I took the history tour which made it even more meaningful.
May 17, 2019 · Reply

Melina Mercouri Obituary

This obit of Melina Mercouri is maintained by Melina's followers. Contribute to her obituary and include details such as cemetery, burial, newspaper obituary and grave or marker inscription if available.

NEW YORK TIMES OBITUARY
Obituaries
Melina Mercouri, Actress and Politician, Is Dead
By PETER B. FLINT
Published: March 7, 1994
Melina Mercouri, the vivacious actress with a husky laugh who went on to become Greece's Minister of Culture, died yesterday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Miss Mercouri, whose greatest screen success was her role as a flamboyant prostitute in the 1960 film "Never on Sunday," was 68, her family said, although references disagree on the year of her birth.

The cause was complications from lung cancer, said Patricia Turi, a hospital spokeswoman. Miss Mercouri was hospitalized in early February and underwent surgery on Feb. 23 to remove cancerous tissue, but her conditioned deteriorated on Saturday because of an infection, Ms. Turi said.

Coming from a politically prominent family, the actress was a passionate anti-Fascist who lost her citizenship and property in 1967 for her aggressive opposition to the junta that held power in Athens for seven years, until 1974. She then speedily returned home and entered politics, winning election to Parliament in 1977 as a Socialist. Miss Mercouri was appointed Culture Minister in 1981 after the Socialists won a landslide victory. She served in the post until 1989, when her party lost power, and then returned when the party was re-elected in October.

"Never on Sunday," the story of a nurturing trollop who refused to work more than six nights a week, established Miss Mercouri as an international star. The movie was directed by Jules Dassin, her close companion and later her husband. Mr. Dassin, the son of a New York barber, fled to Europe after being blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1950's.

Mr. Dassin directed, and often wrote and produced, most of Miss Mercouri's nearly 20 other movies, including "He Who Must Die" (1957), about life overtaking a Passion play in a primitive village on Crete; Mr. Dassin co-adapted the story from the novel "The Greek Passion," by Nikos Kazantzakis. Other joint efforts included "Phaedra," a 1961 tale of a woman lusting for her stepson, and "A Dream of Passion," a 1978 variation of Medea's child-murders. Both were based on, or inspired by, ancient Greek dramas.

Their other team efforts included "Topkapi," a well-regarded 1964 museum-theft caper; "10:30 P.M. Summer," a 1966 story of a descent into alcoholism, and "Promise at Dawn" (1970), from a memoir by Romain Gary about his unconventional mother.

Miss Mercouri conquered Broadway in a 1967 musical adaptation of "Never on Sunday" titled "Illya Darling," prompting Walter Kerr of The New York Times to hail her as "a creature you'd be happy to take home to mother, if mother was out." Politics and Pacifism

The outspoken actress and politician with a flashing smile and feline movements was a favorite of interviewers, who called her a charming, forceful and quotable woman very much in love with life. She spoke French, German and English, as well as Greek.

Of her return from exile, she remarked in 1988: "It became impossible not to interfere in politics. When you are born Greek, you are always in a state of alert about social things." She was also a pacifist, declaring in her 1971 autobiography, "I Was Born Greek," that the "quickest way to get disarmament is if John and Jean and Ivan refuse to pay one penny's tax" for weapons.

Asked about feminism, she replied: "I have never been discriminated against. I have made my life as a woman, and that's not bad." Of marriage, she remarked: "If you take a European woman's husband, she has nothing. But if you take an American husband, you make the wife rich." As for love, she commented: "All any woman wants is to sleep with a man. It is simple. Life is simple."

Maria Amalia Mercouri was born in Athens on Oct. 18, 1925, the daughter of a longtime Minister of the Interior and the granddaughter of a much-admired, longtime Mayor of Athens, who nicknamed her Melina, meaning honey, the usual color of her hair in later years.

Her family's home was open to people from all classes, from scholars to beggars, and meals were shared by up to 100 guests. The wide-ranging contacts and conviviality made her an egalitarian and gave her a liberal education while she resolved to be an actress.

Her parents opposed her acting, so, at 17, she eloped with Panayiotis Characopos, an elderly, wealthy Athenian sympathetic to her study of classical Greek tragedy at the National Theater Academy. After three years of preparation, she went on the Athens stage, won increasingly big parts and was acclaimed in the leading roles in "Mourning Becomes Electra" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." She also starred on the Paris stage and made her film debut as a doomed cabaret entertainer in "Stella," a 1955 melodrama directed by Michael Cacoyannis.

A major turning point occurred at the 1956 Cannes International Film Festival, where she met Mr. Dassin. Though married to others, they immediately forged a deep personal and professional partnership. They were married a decade later.

Miss Mercouri was widely praised for her Madonna-prostitute role in "He Who Must Die" and, three years later, for her hedonistic prostitute in "Never on Sunday," for which she won an award as best actress at Cannes and an Academy Award nomination.

Her other films included "The Gypsy and the Gentleman" (1958), "Where the Hot Wind Blows" (1959), "The Victors" (1963), "A Man Could Get Killed" (1966), "Gaily Gaily" (1969) and "Nasty Habits" (1976). Reviewers repeatedly hailed her performances as exuberant, but sometimes extravagant and overwrought.

In her political career, she represented the working-class district of Piraeus, the port of Athens, which had been the setting for "Never on Sunday." She kept an office there, meeting with constituents twice a week and discussing problems dealing with Government services and women's issues. "I like myself better now," she said in 1978. "It feels better to care about other people's interests -- to be involved."

Through the 1980's, Miss Mercouri often made headlines because of her obsessive effort to regain for Greece the Elgin Marbles of the Acropolis. The sculptures were bought from the Turkish ruler of Greece in the early 1800's by a British ambassador, Lord Elgin, and later placed in the British Museum. As Minister of Culture, she also strove to revive classical Greek culture by increasing Government subsidies for the arts, building provincial libraries and pressing for the preservation of historic monuments.

In exile, Miss Mercouri and her husband lived mainly in Paris. In later years, their main home was in Athens, and they had a vacation home on the Greek island of Spetsai.

She is survived by her husband and by a brother, Spiros Mercouris.

Photos: Melina Mercouri with Jules Dassin, whom she later married, in the 1960 film "Never on Sunday." (United Artists); Melina Mercouri (Agence France-Presse, 1993)

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1920 - 1994 World Events

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Melina's lifetime

In 1920, in the year that Melina Mercouri was born, the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, passed both Houses of Congress and was sent to the States to ratify. In August, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the Amendment and it became law eight days later. Mississippi ratified it in 1984.

In 1938, by the time she was 18 years old, on October 30th, a Sunday, The Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast Orson Welles' special Halloween show The War of the World's. A clever take on H.G. Wells' novel, the show began with simulated "breaking news" of an invasion by Martians. Because of the realistic nature of the "news," there was a public outcry the next day, calling for regulation by the FCC. Although the current story is that many were fooled and panicked, in reality very few people were fooled. But the show made Orson Welles' career.

In 1961, Melina was 41 years old when on January 20th, John F. Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States. He had previously been a U.S. Senator and a Congressman, both from the state of Massachusetts, as well as a Naval lieutenant in World War II.

In 1977, she was 57 years old when on May 25th, Star Wars premiered in theaters. Eventually, it became the highest-grossing film of all time - until E.T. surpassed it a few years later. It was an immediate hit with theatergoers.

In 1994, in the year of Melina Mercouri's passing, on May 6th, former political prisoner, lawyer, and activist Nelson Mandela was elected the first black President of South Africa. He was 75 when he was elected and he served one five-year term.

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