Cyprus born-filmmaker and screenwriter Michael Cacoyannis, who directed the 1964 film classic “Zorba the Greek,” starring Anthony Quinn, died Monday of complications from a heart attack and chronic respiratory problems at an Athens hospital. He was 89.
Cacoyannis won multiple awards and worked with actors including Melina Mercouri, Irene Pappas, 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’ novel. Composer Mikis Theodorakis’ score for the movie remains an enduring Greek anthem.
In the black-and-white movie, a scholarly Englishman, played by Alan Bates, travels to 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 and Lila Kedrova won for supporting actress. It was also nominated for best picture, director, actor and adapted screenplay.
Cacoyannis was born in the Cypriot port of Limassol in 1921, when the Mediterranean island was still a British colony. He studied law in London but soon pursued his interest in the arts, working for the BBC’s Greek service, studying drama and eventually acting in the theater.
After moving to Athens, Cacoyannis made his debut as a director with “Windfall in Athens” in 1954. Two years later, he won a Golden Globe for 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.”
Cacoyannis had no children and is survived by his sister Giannoula.