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Melina Mercouri

Melina Mercouri (or Merkouri) (Μελίνα Μερκούρη; Athens,October 18, 1920 – New York, March 6, 1994) was a Greek actress and political activist. Born Anna Amalia Mercouri or Maria Amalia Mercouris, she became well-known to international audiences when she starred in the 1960 film Never on Sunday, directed by her husband Jules Dassin. In fact, she had been making movies since 1955, first appearing in the Greek film Stella. Her grandfather, and the most precious person in her early life, was Spyros Merkouris, mayor of Athens for many decades. Her father was member of the Parliament. The marriage of her parents ended when she was just a kid and she lived with her mother.

Spyros Mercouris, the grandfather of Melina Mercouri

Her first lover was one of the most famous Greek actors named Papas, who died during the 60's from cancer. Melina married during her teenage years to Panos Harokopos. She later supported, that although she loved her husband, their marriage was a mistake. He supported her need to become an actress, something that her family did not. They were married during Second World War, and his wealth helped her to survive the difficult winters of the Nazi Occupation.

Nominated for an Academy Award for Never on Sunday, she went on to star in such films as Topkapi, Phaedra, and Gaily, Gaily. Melina's first marriage took place during her teenager years. Her first film 'Stella' [1955] was directed by M.Cacoyiannis, the director of 'Zorba the Greek' and brought her to Cannes, where she was nominated for the lead prize. She did not won the prize, but she met there the man of her life, the director Jules Dassin. Jules Dassin is the father of Joe Dassin,the famous french singer who died very young.

During the period of dictatorship in Greece from 1967 to 1974, Mercouri lived in France. When the dictatorship revoked her Greek citizenship, she said, "I was born Greek and I would die Greek. Mr. Pattakos was born a dictator and he will die as a dictator." During these years she recorded 4 records in France, one with Greek lyrics and the other three with french lyrics, all created by Greek musicians, they were highly popular, and they are still critically acclaimed and remastered. Her husky and unusual voice made her the perfect performer of some Great Greek songs which are known classics and performed by hundreds of singers. Her first songs was a song by Manos Hadjidakis and Nikos Gatsos. It was named 'Paper moon-Hartino to feggaraki' and it was a part of the Greek production 'A streetcar named desire' in 1949, where she starred as Blanche. The first official recording of this, now,legendary song was made by Nana Mouskouri in 1960, although the company Sirius, created by Manos Hadjidakis, issued a recording in 2004 by Melina made for the French tv during the 60's.

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When democracy returned to her home country, she returned, and became first a member of the Parliament for PASOK, and then Minister of Culture.

In 1971 she wrote her autobiography, I Was Born Greek.

Melina was one of the most famous Greek Actress, she retired from film acting in 1978. Her last film called 'A dream of Passion' was directed as most of her films by her husband Jules Dassin. She starred with Ellen Burstyn. In 1980 she starred in the Greek production of 'The sweet bird of youth', in the starring role which had created for the Greek audience in 1960.

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As a minister of Culture she created the 'Cultural Capital of Europe' idea, and for this reason the first Cultural Capital of Europe was Athens in 1986. She advocated for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, who are named as Elgin marbles, although Lord Elgin did not created them, he just removed them from Athens, Greece and then they were bought by the British museum. For this reason a new museum is created under the Parthenon, although both the British Museum and the Parliament has not yet accepted the return of the marbles to Greece. Melina died in 1994 in the U.S.A, where she was hospitalised for cancer. She was a smoker and when she died hundreds of Greek citizens left 'Assos' cigarettes at her office. Her body returned to Athens, and received a public mourning from millions of Greek people. It was said that her funeral was attended by 1 million people or even more.

Melina Mercouri Bust in Athens,Photo by Adam Carr, 2002

Melina Merkouri Cultural Center

Melina Mercouri, IMDB

The Melina Mercouri Foundation

Photos of Melina Mercouri

Virraj Sorhvi pays tribute to Melina Mercouri

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