'Zorba the Greek' composer Theodorakis dies aged 96

Athens (AFP) –


Renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who scored the 1964 classic film "Zorba the Greek" and was an icon of resistance to the former military junta, died in Athens on Thursday aged 96.

A prolific talent and political maverick, Theodorakis was adulated in his home country for his inspirational music and defiance during the junta that ruled from 1967-74.

The country will mark three days of mourning to honour his long career and cultural contribution.

But he was perhaps best-known around the world for his film title scores which also included "Z" in 1969 and "Serpico" in 1973.

His work ranged from operas to choral music and popular songs, providing a soundtrack to the life of his country.

In recent years, he suffered heart problems for which he had previously been hospitalised.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said "today we lost a part of Greece's soul.

"Mikis Theodorakis, our Mikis, the teacher, the intellectual, the radical passed away."

President Eikaterini Sakellaropoulou hailed him as a "pan-Hellenic personality" who was also "a universal artist, an invaluable asset of our musical culture.

"He was given a rich and fruitful life that he lived with passion, a life dedicated to music, the arts, our country and its people, dedicated to the ideas of freedom, justice, equality and social solidarity".

"Mikis Theodorakis is now passing into eternity," said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announcing the three days of national mourning.

"His voice was silenced and with him the whole of Hellenism was silenced," he said during a cabinet meeting.

- 'Zorba dance' -

Born into a family of Cretan origin on July 29, 1925 on the northern Aegean island of Chios, Theodorakis joined the resistance against the German and Italian occupation of Greece when he was 17, during World War II.

After completing music studies in the Paris Conservatory, Theodorakis was elected to parliament as a leftwing deputy in 1964.

That year he also scored the theme of "Zorba the Greek", to which actor Anthony Quinn danced the popular "sirtaki" that went on to be known as the "Zorba dance".

When a dictatorship seized control of the government in a 1967 coup, Theodorakis was among the first leftwing politicians to be arrested.

Pardoned a year later, he was involved in setting up the clandestine Patriotic Front, which led to another detention and a ban on his works.

Even in old age, he maintained an active interest in Greece's politics and its slide into economic crisis, living largely out of the public eye in a home beneath the Acropolis.

He was highly critical of former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, whom he accused of betraying his leftwing roots by agreeing to impose EU-mandated austerity reforms after coming to power in 2015.