The great actress Irene Papas passed away at the age of 96 on Wednesday morning.
Simple, archaic, Doric in figure, a symbol of Greek beauty and a famous representative of Mediterranean culture abroad, charismatic, as well as a dynamic woman, Irene Papas became internationally known for her acting skills and her spirit.
The actress, who rarely gave interviews, had met Marlon Brando in 1954 in a karmic meeting that developed into a stormy love affair, as she revealed in 2004 in the Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera”.
More specifically, the then 24-year-old Irene Papas traveled to Rome, where she took her first steps in cinema. At that time, Marlon Brando was 30 years old and wanted by Hollywood directors and producers.
The American actor was fascinated by the beauty and the Mediterranean temperament of the Greek woman. The two lived a passionate relationship, which remained hidden from the media.
As Irene Papas later revealed: “I loved Brando very much and I cared about him. It was the great passion of my life.”
Although the couple broke up, they continued to keep in touch and in 1999, when the actor visited Greece again, he did not fail to meet Irene Papas, who said of this meeting: “Despite the distance of time, it was still wonderful the way he was thinking.”
Irene Papas (whose real name was Irene Lelekou), was born on September 3, 1926 in Chiliomodi, Corinthia, where she spent her childhood years.
Her parents were teachers and she had three sisters. Her adolescence brought her to Athens, where she attended acting classes at the National School of Classical Theatre.
At 15, she had already taken an artistic path, having worked as a radio producer, singer and dancer. At the age of 18, she married the writer Alki Papas, and although their marriage did not last long, the actress kept the last name by which she became known worldwide.
The Greek Culture Ministry confirmed her death on Wednesday.
“Magnificent, majestic, dynamic, Irene Papas was the personification of Greek beauty on the cinema screen and on the theatre stage, an international leading lady who radiated Greekness,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.
Papas became known internationally following performances in The Guns of Navarone in 1961 and Zorba the Greek in 1964, acting alongside Hollywood stars Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn. In all, she starred in more than 50 movies.
A supporter of the Greek Communist Party, Papas was a vocal opponent of the military dictatorship that governed the country between 1967 and 1974 and lived much for life outside Greece, including in Rome and New York.
Papas was also known for her appearance in ancient Greek tragedies. Many of her iconic international movie roles were earned portraying Greek characters. But she also starred with Kirk Douglas in the 1968 crime drama Brotherhood and with James Cagney in the 1956 Western Tribute to a Bad Man.
Greek arts institutions thanked Papas for her support for younger actors. The Athens-based Greek Film Centre described her as “The greatest Greek international film star,” adding: “Her image is a timeless imprint of Greek female beauty.”