Melina Mercouri

Last updated

Melina Mercouri

Melina Mercouri.JPG
Minister for Culture
In office
13 October 1993 6 March 1994
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou
Preceded by Dora Bakoyanni
Succeeded by Thanos Mikroutsikos
In office
21 October 1981 2 July 1989
Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou
Preceded by Andreas Andrianopoulos
Succeeded by Anna Psarouda-Benaki
Member of the Hellenic Parliament
for Piraeus B
In office
20 November 1977 6 March 1994
Personal details
Maria Amalia Mercouri

(1920-10-18)18 October 1920
Athens, Greece
Died6 March 1994(1994-03-06) (aged 73)
Upper East Side, New York City, U.S.
Resting place First Cemetery of Athens
Political party PASOK
Panos Harokopos
(m. 1941;div. 1962)

(m. 1966;her death 1994)
Parents Stamatis Mercouris
Irene Lappa
Alma mater National Theatre of Greece Drama School
Melina Mercouri
Years active1945–1977

Maria Amalia "Melina" Mercouri (Greek : Μαρία Αμαλία "Μελίνα" Μερκούρη, 18 October 1920 [lower-alpha 1] – 6 March 1994) was a Greek actress, singer, and politician. She received an Academy Award nomination and won a Cannes Film Festival Award for her performance in the 1960 film Never on Sunday . Mercouri was also nominated for three Golden Globes and two BAFTA Awards in her acting career.


As a politician, she was a member of the PASOK and the Hellenic Parliament. In October 1981, Mercouri became the first female Minister of Culture and Sports.

Early life

Mercouri was born in 1920. Her grandfather Spyridon Mercouris was a long serving mayor of Athens. Her father Stamatis Mercouris was a former cavalry officer member of the Greek parliament and minister. Her mother, Eirini Lappa came from a wealthy family. When she completed her secondary education, she attended the National Theatre's Drama School, graduating in 1944. Mercouri's first husband was a wealthy landowner, Panos Harokopos; the couple divorced in 1962.

As an actress, Mercouri made her film debut in Stella (1955) and met international success with her performances in Never on Sunday (1960, with future husband Jules Dassin), Phaedra , Topkapi , and Promise at Dawn . She won the award for Best Actress at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival (which she shared with Jeanne Moreau for her performance in Seven Days...Seven Nights). She was nominated for an Academy Award, a Tony Award, three Golden Globe Awards, and two BAFTA Awards.

A political activist during the Greek military junta of 1967–1974, Mercouri became a member of the Hellenic Parliament in 1977 and became the first female Minister for Culture of Greece in 1981. In 1983, Mercouri proposed the programme of the European Capital of Culture, which was established by the European Union in 1985.

Mercouri was a strong advocate for the return to Athens of the Parthenon Marbles, which were removed from the Parthenon, and are now displayed in the British Museum in London. [1]

Acting career

Early years on stage

After her graduation, Mercouri joined the National Theatre of Greece and played the role of Electra in Eugene O'Neill's play Mourning Becomes Electra in 1945. In 1949, she had her first major success in the theatre playing Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire , written by Tennessee Williams and staged by Karolos Koun's Art Theatre. Until 1950, she also worked in the same theatre in other plays by Aldous Huxley, Arthur Miller and André Roussin.

Mercouri then moved to Paris, where she appeared in boulevard plays by Jacques Deval and Marcel Achard, and met famous French playwrights and novelists such as Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Colette and Françoise Sagan. In 1953, Mercouri received the Marika Kotopouli Prize.

Mercouri returned to Greece in 1955. At the Kotopouli-Rex Theatre, Mercouri starred in Macbeth by William Shakespeare and L'Alouette by Jean Anouilh. [ citation needed ]

International success

Melina Mercouri in Phaedra, 1962 Melina Merkoure.jpg
Melina Mercouri in Phaedra , 1962

Mercouri's first movie was the Greek language film Stella (1955), directed by future Zorba the Greek director Michael Cacoyannis. The film received special praise at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, where she met American film director Jules Dassin, with whom she would share not only her career but also her life. Their first professional pairing was 1957's He Who Must Die . Other films by Dassin and featuring Mercouri followed, such as The Law (1959).

Mercouri became well-known to international audiences when she starred in Never on Sunday (1960), of which Dassin was the director and co-star. For this film, she earned the Best Actress Award at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. [2]

After her first major international success, Mercouri went on to star in Phaedra (1962), for which she was nominated again for the BAFTA Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Motion Picture Drama. The recognition of her acting talent did not stop though, as her role in Topkapi (1964) granted her one more nomination, this time for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Mercouri worked with such directors as Joseph Losey, Vittorio De Sica, Ronald Neame, Carl Foreman, Norman Jewison, and starred in films like Spanish language The Uninhibited by Juan Antonio Bardem.

Mercouri continued her stage career in the Greek production of Tennessee Williams's Sweet Bird of Youth (1960), under the direction of Karolos Koun. In 1967, she played the leading role in Illya Darling (from 11 April 1967 to 13 January 1968) on Broadway, [3] for which she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. Mercouri's performance in Promise at Dawn (1970) earned her another Golden Globe Award nomination.

Mercouri concentrated on her stage career for the following years, playing in the Greek productions of The Threepenny Opera and, for a second time, Sweet Bird of Youth, in addition to the ancient Greek tragedies Medea and Oresteia . She retired from film acting in 1978, when she played in her last film, A Dream of Passion , directed by her husband, Jules Dassin. Mercouri's last performance on stage was in the opera Pylades at the Athens Concert Hall in 1992, portraying Clytemnestra.


1955 Stella StellaNominated - Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award
1957 He Who Must Die Katerina
1958 The Gypsy and the Gentleman Belle
1959 The Law Donna Lucrezia
1960 Never on Sunday IlyaWon - Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
1961Long Live Henry IV... Long Live LoveMarie de Médicis
The Last Judgment Foreign lady
1962 Phaedra PhaedraNominated - BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1963 The Victors Magda
Canzoni nel mondoHimself
1964 Topkapi Elizabeth LippNominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1965 The Uninhibited Jenny
1966 A Man Could Get Killed Aurora
10:30 P.M. Summer Maria
1969 Gaily, Gaily Lil
1970 Promise at Dawn Nina KacewNominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1974 The Rehearsal Belle
1975 Once Is Not Enough Karla
1977Nasty HabitsSister Gertrude
1978 A Dream of Passion Maya
1981Gynaikes stin exoriaNarratorVoice, Short, (final film role)

As singer

One of her first songs was by Manos Hadjidakis and Nikos Gatsos. It was titled Hartino to Fengaraki ("Papermoon") and was a part of the Greek production of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1949, in which she starred as Blanche DuBois. The first official recording of this, now-legendary song was made by Nana Mouskouri in 1960, although the company Sirius, created by Manos Hadjidakis, issued, in 2004, a recording Melina had made for French television during the 1960s. Her recordings of "Athenes, ma Ville", a collaboration with Vangelis, and "Melinaki", were popular in France. Her recording of "Feggari mou, Agapi mou" (Phaedra) was quite popular and was later covered by Marinella in 1965.

Political career

Activism against the Greek junta

At the time of the coup d'état in Greece by a group of colonels of the Greek military on 21 April 1967, she was in the United States, playing in Illya Darling . She immediately joined the struggle against the Greek Military Junta and started an international campaign, travelling all over the world to inform the public and contribute to the isolation and fall of the colonels. As a result, the dictatorial regime revoked her Greek citizenship and confiscated her property. [4]

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". [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

While in London she worked with Amalia Fleming and Helen Vlachos of Kathimerini against the junta of the colonels. [10]

Involvement in politics

After the fall of the Junta and during the metapolitefsi in 1974, Mercouri settled in Greece and was one of the founding members of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), a centre-left political party. She was a member of the party's Central Committee and a rapporteur for the Culture Section, while being involved in the women's movement as well.

In the Greek legislative elections of 1974, she was a PASOK candidate in the Piraeus B constituency, but the 7,500 votes were not enough to secure a seat for her in the Hellenic Parliament (she needed 33 more votes), something that came true in the elections of 1977, in which she obtained the highest number of votes in the whole of Greece. [ citation needed ]

Minister for Culture: 1981–1989

Melina Mercouri (1985) Melina Mercouri (1985).jpg
Melina Mercouri (1985)

When PASOK won the elections of 1981, Mercouri was appointed Minister for Culture of Greece, being the first female in that post. She would serve in that position for two terms until 1989, when PASOK lost the elections and New Democracy formed a cabinet. As Minister for Culture, Mercouri took advantage of her fame abroad and got in contact with great European leaders in order to promote Greece. She strongly advocated the return to Athens of the Parthenon Marbles, that were removed from Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, and are now part of the British Museum collection in London. In 1983, she had a famous live television spat with then British Museum director David M. Wilson, which was widely interpreted as a public relations disaster for the British museum. [11] In anticipation of the return of the marbles, she held an international competition for the construction of the New Acropolis Museum, designated to display them and finally established in 2008. [1]

One of her greatest achievements was the establishment of the institution of the European Capital of Culture within the framework of cultural policy of the European Union, that she had conceived and proposed in 1983, with Athens inaugurating this institution being the first title-holder in 1985, while she was a devoted supporter of the Athens bid to host the Centennial Olympic Games. In 1983, during the first Greek presidency of the Council of the European Union, Mercouri invited the Ministers for Culture of the other nine member states of the European Union at Zappeion, in order to increase the people's cultural awareness, since there was not any reference to cultural questions in the Treaty of Rome, which led to the establishment of formal sessions between the Ministers of Culture of the European Union. During the second presidency of Greece in 1988, she supported the cooperation between Eastern Europe and the European Union, which was finally implemented one year later with the celebration of the Month of Culture in Eastern countries. [ citation needed ]

Mercouri commissioned a study for the integration of all the archaeological sites of Athens to create a traffic-free archaeological park to promote the Greek culture. She introduced free access to museums and archaeological sites for Greek citizens, organized a series of exhibitions of Greek cultural heritage and modern Greek art worldwide, supported the restoration of buildings of special architectural interest and the completion of the Athens Concert Hall, backed the project of the Museum of Byzantine culture in Thessaloniki and established annual literary pizes. [ citation needed ]

In June 1986 Melina Mercouri spoke at the Oxford Union, a world-famous debating society, on the matter of the Parthenon Marbles and whether they should remain in London or be returned to Greece. She argued passionately for the Marble's reunification. As she explains, the Marbles are more to Greece than just works of art: they are an essential element of Greek heritage, which ties directly into cultural identity. She said: "You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to us. They are our pride. They are our sacrifices. They are our noblest symbol of excellence. They are a tribute to the democratic philosophy. They are our aspirations and our name. They are the essence of Greekness." [12] Her stance on the matter has inspired a new wave of activism on the issue, and inspired pride in Greek culture and history.

Minister for Culture: 1993–1994

In the legislative elections of November 1989, PASOK lost and Mercouri was elected a member of the Hellenic Parliament and remained a member of the party's Executive Bureau. In 1990, she was a candidate for Mayor of Athens but she was defeated by Antonis Tritsis.

After PASOK's win in the election of 1993, she was back at the Ministry for Culture. [13] Her major goals in this second term in office were: to create a cultural park in the Aegean Sea in order to protect and enhance the environment and civilization of the Aegean Islands, and to link culture with education at all education levels, introducing a system of post-training of teachers.


Mercouri died on 6 March 1994 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, from lung cancer. [14] She was survived by her husband, Jules Dassin. She had no children. She received a state funeral with Prime Minister's honors at the First Cemetery of Athens four days later. The Melina Mercouri Foundation was founded by her widower. After her death, UNESCO established the ‘Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes (UNESCO-Greece)' which rewards outstanding examples of action to safeguard and enhance the world's major cultural landscapes. [13] [15]


The song "Melina" by Camilo Sesto (from the 1975 album "Amor libre") is dedicated to Melína Merkoúri. [16] [17]

On 18 October 2015, Google Doodle commemorated her 95th birthday. [18]


  1. New style: 31 October 1920

Related Research Articles

Elgin Marbles Collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures from the Athenian Acropolis

The Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, are a collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures made under the supervision of the architect and sculptor Phidias and his assistants. They were originally part of the temple of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. The collection is now on display in the British Museum, in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery.

<i>Never on Sunday</i> 1960 film directed by Jules Dassin

Never on Sunday is a 1960 Greek black-and-white, romantic comedy film.

Thanos Mikroutsikos Greek composer and politician

Athanasios "Thanos" Mikroutsikos was a Greek composer and politician. He was considered one of the most important composers of the recent Greek musical scene.

The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM) is a group of British people who support the return of the Parthenon (Elgin) marbles to Athens, Greece.

<i>Stella</i> (1955 film) 1955 film from Greece directed by Michael Cacoyannis

Stella is a 1955 Greek film is a retelling of Carmen featuring Melina Mercouri. The film was directed by the Greek Cypriot Michael Cacoyannis and written by Cacoyannis and Iakovos Kambanelis. The music was composed by Manos Hadjidakis and Vassilis Tsitsanis.

Jules Dassin American film director

Julius "Jules" Dassin was an American film director, producer, writer and actor. He was a subject of the Hollywood blacklist as he was a member of the Communist Party USA, and subsequently moved to France, where he continued his career.

George S. Mercouris was a Greek politician who served as a Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, and later founded the Greek National Socialist Party; a minor fascist party, they were one of several small far right parties in Greece at the time. During the occupation of Greece, Mercouris was appointed by the Nazis as Governor of the National Bank of Greece.

Cinema of Greece

The Cinema of Greece has a long and rich history. Though hampered at times by war or political instability, the Greek film industry dominates the domestic market and has experienced international success. Characteristics of Greek cinema include a dynamic plot, strong character development and erotic themes. Two Greek films, Missing (1982) and Eternity and a Day (1998), have won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Five Greek films have received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

<i>Phaedra</i> (film) 1962 film directed by Jules Dassin

Phaedra is a 1962 American-Greek drama film directed by Jules Dassin as a vehicle for his partner Melina Mercouri, after her worldwide hit Never on Sunday.

Old Acropolis Museum museum in Athens

The Old Acropolis Museum was an archaeological museum located in Athens, Greece on the archeological site of Acropolis. It is built in a niche at the eastern edge of the rock and most of it lies beneath the level of the hilltop, making it largely invisible. It was considered one of the major archaeological museums in Athens. Due to its limited size, the Greek government decided in the late 1980s to build a new museum. The New Acropolis Museum is now built at the foot of the Acropolis. In June 2007 the old museum closed its doors so that its antiquities could be moved to their new home, which opened on 20 June 2009.

<i>Illya Darling</i> musical

Illya Darling is a musical with a book by Jules Dassin, music by Manos Hadjidakis, and lyrics by Joe Darion, based on Dassin's 1960 film Never on Sunday.

Stylianos Pattakos Greek soldier and participant in the 1967–1974 junta

Stylianos Pattakos was a Greek military officer. Pattakos was one of the principals of the Greek military junta of 1967–1974 that overthrew the government of Panagiotis Kanellopoulos in a coup d'état on 21 April 1967.

Greece–United Kingdom relations Diplomatic relations between the Hellenic Republic and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Greek–British relations are foreign relations between Greece and the United Kingdom. The two countries have been allies during the First World War and the Second World War, but also Greece received military and financial assistance from the United Kingdom during the Greek War of Independence. Both countries currently maintain relations via the British Embassy in Athens and a consulate general in Thessaloniki and the Greek Embassy in London and honorary Greek consulates in Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Gibraltar.

Amalia Fleming, Lady Fleming, née Koutsouri-Vourekas was a Greek physician, bacteriologist, human rights activist and politician.

<i>A Dream of Passion</i> 1978 film

A Dream of Passion is a 1978 Greek drama film directed by Jules Dassin. The story follows Melina Mercouri as Maya, an actress playing Medea, who seeks out Brenda Collins, portrayed by Ellen Burstyn, a woman who is in jail for murdering her own children to punish her husband for his infidelity.

Christos Papoutsis Greek politician

Christos Papoutsis is a Greek socialist politician who has served as Minister for Citizen Protection (2010–12), Mercantile Marine Minister (2000–01) Member of the European Parliament (1984–95) and European Commissioner for Energy and Euratom Supply Agency, Small business and Tourism (1995–1999). He has also served as the Secretary of the Parliamentary Group and Parliamentary Spokesman for the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), the majority party in Greece (2009–2010). He also was candidate for Mayor of Athens (2002).

Spyridon Mercouris Greek politician

Spyridon Mercouris (1856-1939) was a Greek politician and long-serving Mayor of Athens in the early 20th century. He was born in Ermioni, Argolida, in 1856 to a prominent and wealthy family that had taken part in the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s.He was the son of Georgios Mercouris, captain and son of Spyridon Mercouris, and Theodora / Theodota, daughter of the chieftain of the Greek revolution and later MP of Ermionida and authorized representative in national assmblies Stamatis Mitsas, and sister of the military and also MP of Ermionida Antonios Mitsas. Through the Mitsa family, he was a close by marriage relative with the historical Zakynthian family of the Motsenigos.

34th Berlin International Film Festival Film festival

The 34th annual Berlin International Film Festival was held from 17–28 February 1984. The festival opened with The Noah's Ark Principle by Roland Emmerich.The Golden Bear was awarded to the American film Love Streams directed by John Cassavetes. The retrospective was dedicated to German-American actor, screenwriter, producer and film director Ernst Lubitsch. The Honorary Golden Bear was awarded to American director Jules Dassin and Greek actress Melina Mercouri and the Homage section was dedicated to the couple.

Helen Vlachos Greek journalist (1911-1995)

Helen Vlachos was a legend of Greek journalism, newspaper publishing heiress, proprietor, and anti-junta activist.

Stamatis Mercouris was a Greek Army officer and politician, who served as an MP and a Cabinet Minister. A member of the prominent Mercouris family, he was the son of Spyridon Mercouris, long-serving Mayor of Athens in the early 20th century, and the younger brother of George Mercouris, far-right politician and Cabinet Minister. In contrast to his conservative father and brother, Stamatis would end up becoming a Member of Parliament for the Left; his daughter was the famous actress Melina Mercouri, Minister of Culture in the socialist government of Andreas Papandreou.


  1. 1 2 Casey, Christopher (October 30, 2008). ""Grecian Grandeurs and the Rude Wasting of Old Time": Britain, the Elgin Marbles, and Post-Revolutionary Hellenism". Foundations. Volume III, Number 1. Archived from the original on May 13, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-25.
  2. Profile,; accessed 6 December 2014.
  3. Melina Mercouri at the Internet Broadway Database
  4. Newsweek. Newsweek. 1967. Retrieved 17 March 2013. Greek word for honey (rneli), but there was acid in her throaty voice last week as vibrant Melina Mercouri condemned Brig. Gen. Stylianos Pattakos, strong man of the Greek revolutionary junta which had just stripped her of citizenship and property ... Those bastards were born Fascists; they will die Fascists", said the passionate performer who until the recent coup did as ...
  5. Newsweek. Newsweek, Incorporated. 1967. Retrieved 17 March 2013. "I was born a Greek; I will die a Greek. Mr. Pattakos was born a Fascist; he will die a Fascist", said the passionate performer who until the recent coup did as much to spur Greek tourism as all the ancient ruins combined. ...
  6. Books and Bookmen. Hansom Books. 1971. Retrieved 17 March 2013. When asked if she had any comment on this she replied: 'I was born Greek. I shall die Greek. Those bastards were born fascists and they will die fascists.
  7. Labor Today. National Center for Trade Union Action and Democracy. Retrieved 17 March 2013. No wonder the talented actress Melina Mercouri, after being stripped of her Greek citizenship in absentia, said of junta member Colonel Pattakos : "I was born a Greek and I will die a Greek. Pattakos was born a Fascist and will die a Fascist.
  8. Helen Vlachos (1971). Free Greek voices: a political anthology. (10 Gayfere St., SWIP 3HN), Doric Publications Ltd. Retrieved 17 March 2013. He repeated it. And my answer came like water from a fountain: 'I was born a Greek, I will die a Greek; Pattakos was born Fascist, he will die Fascist . . .' "And now what will happen, Melina?" I am asked. Now there will be a trial at some ...
  9. Balkania. Balkania Publishing Company. 1967. Retrieved 17 March 2013. ... Patakos was born a fascist and will die a fascist," Miss Mercouri said at a press conference she called shortly after hearing that her citizenship had been ...
  10. RICHARD CLOGG (17 October 1995). "Obituary: Helen Vlachos". The Independent . Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  11. "How Mercouri tackled Britain in 1983 battle of the Marbles". The Times of London.
  12. Ian Windale (9 February 1997). "The Parthenon Marbles, Melina's Speech to the Oxford Union".
  13. 1 2 Melina Mercouri profile, Hellenic Ministry of Culture website; accessed 6 December 2014.
  14. Melina Mercouri, Actress and Politician, Is Dead
  15. Foundation Melina Mercouri (in Greek and English)
  16. "¿Quién fue 'Melina'? La extraordinaria mujer que da título a la canción de Camilo Sesto". El Confidencial (in Spanish). 2019-09-10. Retrieved 2019-09-11.
  17. "¿Quién es Melina, la de la famosa canción de Camilo Sesto? Es una mujer. Y no es un tema de amor…". Retrieved 2019-09-11.
  18. "Melina Mercouri's 95th Birthday". 18 October 2015.
Political offices
Preceded by
Andreas Andrianopoulos
Minister for Culture of Greece
Succeeded by
Georgios Mylonas
Preceded by
Dora Bakoyannis
Minister for Culture of Greece
Succeeded by
Thanos Mikroutsikos