Aristotelis “Telly” Savalas was born on January 21, 1922, and died on January 22, 1994, just one day after his 72nd birthday.
He was a Greek American actor whose career spanned four decades of television.
He was best known for his role as Lt. Theodore “Theo” Kojak, who was a bald New York City detective with a fondness for lollipops and whose famous line was “Who loves ya, baby?”
He also liked to say, “Everybody should have a little Greek in them.”
Although the lollipop gimmick was added in order to indulge his sweet tooth, Savalas also smoked heavily onscreen – cigarette and cigars – throughout the first season’s episodes.
The lollipops, which Savalas later admitted had given him three cavities and were also part of an effort by Kojak to stop him smoking.
His other roles include:
- Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
- The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
- Battle of the Bulge (1965)
- The Dirty Dozen (1967)
- Kelly's Heroes (1970)
- Horror Express (1972)
- Lisa and the Devil (1974)
- Escape to Athena (1979)
For 'Birdman of Alcatraz', he was nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.
Telly was the second of five children was born in New York, to Greek-American parents Christina Kapsalis, a New York City artist from Sparta and Nick Savalas (Tsavalas), a Greek restaurant owner.
Savalas and his brother Gus sold newspapers and shined shoes to help support the family.
He was very proud of his Greek background and was quoted as saying:
“Our father raised us with great pride in being Greek, to never lose our Greek language, to never lose our religion, and the Greek pride…blood doesn’t become water…Hellenism will never be lost.”
Telly Savalas was married three times and had five children. He was also the Godfather of famous Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston.
Savalas passed away on January 22, 1994, of prostate cancer at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel in Universal City, California.