Beautiful Greek actress Tzeni Karezi was born on 12 January 1932 and died on 27 July 1992. Also known as Jenny Karezi, she was one of the country’s most loved actresses and was considered one of the most popular and successful artists of all time in Greece, both in cinema and on stage.
Tzeni (or Jenny) Karezi was born Evgenia Karpouzi, in Athens, to highly educated parents; her father was a mathematician and her mother a high school teacher. She studied under the direction of nuns in a private French school in Thessaloniki, and as a result, she spoke French fluently. When she was a teenager, her father left the family, and she continued to live with her mother. She did not see her father until he died in a car accident in 1971.
In 1951 she was accepted at the Greek National Theater (Eθνικό Θέατρο), where she studied in the Drama School.
Her stage debut was in the Marika Kotopouli theatre in the French comedy La belle Heléne, with Melina Mercouri and Vasilis Diamantopoulos. In 1955, Karezi made her cinema debut in the comedy, Laterna, ftoheia kai filotimo in 1955, a massive success just like its sequel, Laterna, ftoheia kai garyfallo in 1957. For the soundtrack of the 1959 film To nisi ton genneon she recorded a song by future Academy Award winner Manos Hadidakis,” “Min ton rotas ton ourano.”
Her career flourished in the 1960s, when she headed her theatre troupe in 1961 and starred in some of the most classic movies of the Greek Cinemaincluding Lola (1964), Mia trelli … trelli oikogeneia (1965), Tzeni-Tzeni (1966), and Kontserto gia polyvola (1967). Her greatest film success was Ta kokkina fanaria (The Red Lanterns 1963), nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Her last film appearance was in Lysistrata (1972). Over the following decade, she continued to produce and star in such stage classics as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Medea and Electra. She appeared for the last time in the theatre in 1990 in a play, Diamonds and the blues; suffering from terminal breast cancer, she was in great pain and had to leave the show.
In the early 1960’s Karezi wed a journalist, Zahos Hadjifotiou, but this marriage ended in divorce two years later. In 1967, during the filming of Kontserto gia polyvola, she met Kostas Kazakos, with whom she had her only child, Konstantinos Kazakos. They formed a popular duo and Karezi’s repertoire shifted to more sophisticated and intellectual plays.
They were led to prison, where they spent several nights due to the play To megalo mas tsirko (Our Big Circus) in 1973, which insulted the Greek dictatorship.
Tzeni Karezi died on 27 July 1992 from cancer at 60. Thousands of family, friends and fans attended the public funeral.
As a victim of metastatic cancer, she asked those close to her to make palliative care better known and to assist in its development so others suffering painful diseases could live through their last days with dignity. After her death, her dream came true, and her family founded the Tzeni Karezi Foundation.