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Birth Name: Aristotelis Savalas
Born: January 21, 1922, Garden City, New York
Died: January 22, 1994, Universal City, California (bladder cancer)
Children: (in order of birth) Christina, Penelope, Candace, Nicholas, Christian and Ariana
Wives: Katherine Nicholaidis, Marilynn (Lynn) Gardner and Julie Hovland
Goddaughter: Jennifer Aniston
Best known for playing the title role in the 1970s crime drama Kojak, with his trade mark catchphrase, "Who loves ya, baby?"
Savalas, the second of five children, was born as Aristotelis Savalas in Garden City NY, to Greek American parents Christina, a New York City artist, and Nick Savalas, a Greek restaurant owner. When he entered High School he initially only spoke Greek, but learned English and graduated in 1940. After graduation he worked as a lifeguard, but on one occasion was unsuccessful at rescuing a man from drowning, an event which would haunt Savalas for the remainder of his life. When he entered Columbia University School of General Studies Savalas took courses including English language, radio and psychology, graduating in 1948. At that time he fell in love with radio and television, which led to his interest in acting. Savalas also served three years (1943–1946) in the US Army during World War II, working for the US State Department as host of the Your Voice of America series. He then worked at ABC News, before beginning his acting career in his late thirties.
His first acting role was on "And Bring Home a Baby", an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre in January 1959. He made guest appearances in various early television series, including Naked City, The Eleventh Hour, King of Diamonds, The Aquanauts, The Untouchables, Diagnosis: Unknown, Burke's Law, Combat!, The Fugitive, Breaking Point, Bonanza, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Virginian, The F.B.I. and The Twilight Zone classic episode "Living Doll". He had a recurring role as Brother Hendricksen on the popular crime drama series, 77 Sunset Strip and was a regular on the short-lived NBC television series Acapulco.
The Twilight Zone - Living Doll
The Virginian playing the character of Colonel Bliss
In his Bonanza role he played the character of Charles Augustus Hackett, one of the wealthiest men in the world who offers to buy the Ponderosa, price no object. When Ben says the ranch is not for sale Hackett refuses to give up.
To Own The World as Charles Augustus Hackett
While playing Lucky Luciano on the TV series The Witness, he was "discovered" by actor Burt Lancaster. He appeared with Lancaster in three movies the first of these was the crime drama “The Young Savages” (1961). After playing a police officer in this movie, he moved on to play a string of heavies. Once again opposite Lancaster, he won acclaim and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the sadistic Feto Gomez in “Birdman of Alcatraz” (1962). In the same year he appeared alongside Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum in “Cape Fear” (1962) as private detective Charles Sievers.
As Feto Gomez in the Birdman of Alcatraz
Savalas shaved his head for his role as Pontius Pilate in “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965), and decided to remain shaved for the remainder of his life.
Savalas was memorable as the weirdly religious and very sadistic convict Archer Maggott in The “Dirty Dozen” (1967) and he later returned to play a different character in two of the movie's TV sequels –“The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission” (1987) and “The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission” (1988). He co-starred with Burt Lancaster for the third time in “The Scalphunters” (1968), a comedy western that looked at racism during the Civil Rights movement. Two more appearances in comedies for Savalas were as Herbie Haseler in “Crooks and Coronets” (1969) and opposite Clint Eastwood in “Kelly's Heroes” (1970) where he played the no nonsense hard as nails company sergeant 'Big Joe'.
Savalas with co-star Clint Eastwood in Kelly's Heroes
His career was transformed with the lead role in the TV movie “The Marcus Nelson Murders” (CBS, 1973), which was based on the real life Career Girls Murder case, and pop culture icon Theo Kojak was born. In that TV movie, the pilot for the series, and only in that TV movie, his name was spelled ‘Kojack’. That spelling was replaced with the more familiar 'Kojak' for the rest of the series.
Savalas as Kojak with co-star Kevin Dobson
As a singer, Savalas had some chart success. His spoken word version of "If" and was No1 in Europe for 10 weeks in 1975 and his sung version of Don Williams' "Some Broken Hearts Never Mend" topped the charts in 1980. He worked with composer and producer John Cacavas on many albums, including Telly (1974) and Who Loves Ya, Baby (1976).
Personal Life - Savalas was married three times. In 1948 after his father's death, Savalas married his college sweetheart, Katherine Nicolaides. Daughter Christina, named after his mother, was born in 1950. In 1957, Katherine filed for divorce after she found out from Telly that he was running away to flee his creditors. She urged him to move back to his mother's house during that same year. While Savalas was going broke, he founded the Garden City Theatre Centre in his native Garden City. While working there, he met Marilyn Gardner, a theatre teacher, and they fell in love. They married in 1960. Marilyn gave birth to daughter Penelope in 1961. A second daughter, Candace, was born in 1963.
In 1969, while working on the movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Savalas met Sally Adams. Sally gave birth to their son Nicholas Savalas on February 24, 1973. Gardner filed for divorce from Savalas in 1974, but Savalas and Sally Adams apparently never legally married. In 1977 during the last season of Kojak, he met and fell in love with Julie Hovland, a travel agent from Minnesota. They were married in 1984 and had two children together, Christian and Ariana. Julie and Telly remained married until his death. Christian Savalas is an actor, singer and songwriter. Ariana Savalas is an actress and singer/songwriter. Julie Savalas is an inventor and artist.
Seen here with his 3rd wife Julie Hovland and their children.
His death - Savalas died on January 22, 1994, at the age of 72, just one day after his birthday, of complications of cancer of the bladder at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel in Universal City, California, He was interred at the George Washington section of Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery. The funeral, held in the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, was attended by his third wife Julie and his brother Gus. His first two wives, Katherine and Marilyn, also attended with their own children. The mourners included Angie Dickinson, Nicollette Sheridan, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Sorbo, Sally Adams, Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles, and several of Telly's Kojak co-stars - Kevin Dobson, Dan Frazer and Vince Conti.
"When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place."
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