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Michael Cacoyannis; directed ‘Zorba the Greek,’ other films

Michael Cacoyannis, talking to soprano Maria Callas in 1975, won many awards and worked with well-known actors. Michael Cacoyannis, talking to soprano Maria Callas in 1975, won many awards and worked with well-known actors. (AFP/ Getty Images)
Associated Press / July 26, 2011

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ATHENS - Michael Cacoyannis, the Cyprus-born filmmaker and screenwriter who directed the 1964 film classic “Zorba the Greek,’’ starring Anthony Quinn, has died at an Athens hospital. He was 89.

Officials at a state-run hospital said Mr. Cacoyannis died early yesterday of complications of a heart attack and chronic respiratory problems.

Mr. Cacoyannis won multiple awards and worked with such well-known actors as Melina Mercouri, Irene Papas, Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave, and Candice Bergen. But he was best known internationally for the Academy Award-winning “Zorba the Greek,’’ the 1964 adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, joining with composer Mikis Theodorakis, whose score for the movie remains an enduring Greek anthem.

In the black-and-white movie, a scholarly Englishman, played by Alan Bates, travels to the Greek island of Crete to visit a coal mine he inherited. Alexis Zorbas, played by Anthony Quinn, is his grizzled and larger-than-life cook and fixer.

The movie won two technical awards at the 1965 Oscars, while Lila Kedrova won for best supporting actress.

But Mr. Cacoyannis and Quinn both lost out to “My Fair Lady,’’ which was voted best picture that year.

Mr. Cacoyannis was born in 1921 in the Cypriot port of Limassol, when the island was a British colony. He studied law in London, but soon followed his interest in the arts, working for the BBC’s Greek service, studying drama, and eventually getting acting parts in the theater.

After moving to Athens, Mr. Cacoyannis made his debut as a director with “Windfall in Athens’’ in 1954. Two years later, he won a Golden Globe for best foreign-language film for “Stella,’’ starring Mercouri.

“His movies received awards at the most important film festivals in the world,’’ Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos said. “His work became the vehicle that took Greek culture to every corner of the earth, and served as a source of inspiration for Greek and foreign artists.’’

Mr. Cacoyannis had no children and leaves his sister Giannoula.