In Memoriam: The Greek Goddess
THE POLITICAL CAREER OF THE ‘NEVER ON SUNDAY’ ACTRESS
Melina Mercouri was in New York performing in the musical ‘Illya Darling’ when a gang of military colonels overthrew the Greek government in April 1967 in a coup d’état.
The Greek actress came from a famous political family — her grandfather was a long-time mayor of Athens and her father was a Greek parliamentarian — and she used her love of Greece and her fame to help unseat the generals.
She immediately launched an international campaign to fight against the military junta, traveling the world to speak out against the dictatorial regime.
The generals revoked her Greek citizenship and confiscated her property.
When her citizenship was taken away, she said: “I was born a Greek and I will die a Greek. Those bastards were born fascists and they will die fascists.”
MINISTER FOR CULTURE
Six years later, after the fall of the junta and during the metapolitefsi* in 1974, Melina Mercouri got her citizenship back and settled in Greece.
She was a founding member of the centre-left political party PASOK, serving as liaison for the culture section. She ultimately became the first female Minister for Culture and Sport.
Melina’s first movie role was in the 1955 Greek language film ‘Stella.’ She became known internationally when she starred in the 1960 hit ‘Never on Sunday,’ directed by co-star Jules Dassin, who would become her husband until her death.
“You know, it is said that we Greeks are a fervent and warm blooded breed. Well, let me tell you something — it is true.”
The ‘Greek Goddess’ won Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination for ‘Never on Sunday’ and followed that success two years later with more award nominations for ‘Phaedra.’
Melina Mercouri died of lung cancer at Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City at the age of 73. She was survived by Jules Dassin. He died in 2008 at the age of 96. They had no children.
The actress and political activist was given a state funeral with ministerial honors in Athens at which more than 300,000 people mourned her death.
UNESCO established an international award in her name for achievements in safeguarding and enhancing the world’s major cultural landscapes.
“I want to believe in a personal god… but the suffering of one single child, or more likely, millions is evidence against that belief. The one question I want to ask god: how do you explain or justify the suffering of a child?”