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Irene Papas
Born Irene Lelekou
September 3, 1926 (1926-09-03) (age 83)
Chiliomodi, Corinth, Greece
Years active 1949–2003
Spouse(s) Alkis Papas (1943–1947) (divorced)

Irene Papas (Greek Ειρήνη Παππά; born September 3, 1926) is a Greek actress and occasional singer, who has starred in over seventy films in a career spanning more than fifty years.



Irene Papas was born Irini Lelekou (Ειρήνη Λελέκου) in Chiliomodi outside Corinth, Greece. In an interview, after the death of Marlon Brando, Papas said that she had had an affair with the American actor in the past and that they had remained "close friends" until the end. She sits on the board of directors of the Anna-Marie Foundation along with members of Greece's deposed royal family.[1]


Papas began her early career in Greece (she was discovered by Elia Kazan), achieving widespread fame there, before starring in internationally renowned films such as The Guns of Navarone and Zorba the Greek, and critically acclaimed films such as Z and Electra. She is a leading figure in cinematic transcriptions of ancient tragedy since she has portrayed Helen in The Trojan Women, Clytemnestra in Iphigenia, and the eponymous parts in Electra and Antigone. She appeared as Catherine of Aragon in the film Anne of the Thousand Days, opposite Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold in 1969. She was a close friend of Katharine Hepburn, with whom she co-starred in The Trojan Women. Hepburn once said that Papas was "one of the best actresses in the history of cinema".

In 1977, she starred in the film Mohammad, Messenger of God (also known as The Message) about the origin of Islam, and the message of prophet Mohammad. She most recently appeared in the film, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and is currently working in theatre in Portugal. Federico Fellini was a huge admirer of her work.

In 1979, Papas collaborated with composer Vangelis in an electronic rendition of eight Greek folk songs, issued as a record called "Odes". They collaborated again in 1983 for "Rhapsodies", an electronic rendition of seven Byzantine liturgical hymns.

In 1982, she appeared in the film Lion of the Desert, together with Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, Rod Steiger, and Sir John Gielgud.

International awards and honours

  • 1961: Antigone film
  • 1962: Thessaloniki International Film Festival (Best Actress, for the film Elektra) — won
  • 1962: Union of Greek Film Critics (Best Actress, for the film Elektra) — won
  • 1969: New York Film Critics Circle (Best Supporting Actress, for the film Z) — nominated
  • 1971: National Board of Review (Best Actress, for the film The Trojan Women) — won
  • 1985: Fennecus Awards (Best Actress in a limited role, for the film Into the Night) — nominated
  • 1989: Australian Film Institute (Best Actress, for the film Island) — nominated
  • 1993: Hamptons International Film Festival (Distinguished Achievement Award) — won
  • 1993: Flaiano Prize for Theatre (Career Award) — won
  • 2000: Madrid National Arts Institution (Career Award) — won
  • 2000: International Festival Women’s films (Career Award) — won
  • 2001: University of Rome (Doctorate in Arts and Letters) — won
  • 2002: Woman of Europe Award (Career Award) — won

Appearances as singer

One of the more unusual moments in Papas' career came in 1970, when she guested on the album 666 by Greek rock group Aphrodite's Child on the track "∞" (infinity). She chants "I was, I am, I am to come" repeatedly and wildly over a percussive backing. The track was considered lewd by record company executives, and resulted in the album being withheld from release for two years by Polydor Records. Upon its release in 1972, the song caused some furor in Greece and was again accused of lewdness and indecency by Greek religious figures and government authorities.

In 1979, Polydor released her solo album entitled Odes, with music performed (and partly composed) by Vangelis Papathanassiou (also previously a member of Aphrodite's Child). The words for the album were co-written by Arianna Stassinopoulos (Arianna Huffington).

In 1986 Papas released a further album in collaboration with Vangelis, entitled Rhapsodies (Polydor CD 829 413-2).


  • "Falling in love is like death... they are both facts".
  • "Melina Mercouri was a star. I am a struggling actress".
  • "I never wanted to play sensational parts, or those of desirable women. I wanted to play me... the independent fighter...".
  • "I never won an Oscar... and the Oscars never won Irene Papas".


External links



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