Mercouri funeral draws 300,000

ATHENS — Hundreds of thousands of sorrowful Greeks escorted actress and politician Melina Mercouri to her grave Thursday, applauding and showering her coffin with flower petals.

Police said more than 300,000 people followed the procession taking Mercouri’s flag-draped coffin from Athens Cathedral to the First Cemetery for burial.

Mercouri, 68, described in the press as “the last Greek goddess,” died Sunday at New York’s Memorial Hospital from complications after surgery for lung cancer.

Athens was brought to a standstill, with schools, shops and government offices closed to allow people to attend the ceremony, which lasted for almost three hours.

A tall blonde with green eyes, she achieved international stardom with her Oscar-nominated role of a carefree prostitute in the 1960 film “Never on Sunday.”

She was Greece’s culture minister in 1981-1989 and again, after the Socialist Party won elections last October.

“You were the light of Greece,” said Jack Lang, former French culture minister and a friend, in his eulogy at the funeral service. “You embodied the Greek ideal of freedom.”

Her petal-covered casket was carried on a gun carriage, hauled by a military vehicle past the parliament where she served as a member for 16 years.

Respected for her struggles for democracy and culture, she was adored by the public for her fiery personality. “Melina wore beauty, wore life and freedom like a casual shirt,” said her friend, the novelist Lily Zografou.

“I remember everything about her, especially her laughter. We adored her, the whole world did,” said a tearful Anna Panayotopoulou, 45, as she waited outside the cathedral.