Aristotelis Savalas (better known as Telly Savalas) was a film and television actor and singer. Noted for his bald head and deep voice, Savalas is best known for his role as Lt. Theo Kojak in the police-drama series, Kojak (1973–1978).

Savalas also acted in several very succesful movies in the 60s and 70s including Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) where he was nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor,  Battle of the Bulge (both 1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), in the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) as supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Kelly’s Heroes (1970) and Escape to Athena (1979).

Savalas was born in New York to Greek immigrant parents, Nicholas and Christina Savalas. Just before WWII started he started studiying psychology at the Columbia University but he dropped out to served in World War II. After the war eneded he was honourably discharged with a Purple Heart disability. During the early 1950s, Savalas worked for ABC radio where he had his own popular talk show, “Telly’s Coffee House”. He decided to turn to acting when he was in his thirties.

Unfortunately Telly Savalas contracted bladder cancer in the early 1990s, ultimately succumbing to the disease in 1994, just a day after he turned 70 years old.

Savalas was also the godfather of Jennifer Aniston, with whom he shared Greek roots.

“I’m a proud Greek.

I carry my Hellenism like a badge of merit.”

Was Telly Savalas Greek?

Yes, he was Greek on both sides of his family.

Telly Savalas was born Aristotelis Savalas on January 21, 1922, in Garden City, New York, to Greek parents Nick and Christina (née Kapsalis) Savalas. One set of grandparents originated from Ierakas, Greece, in the Peloponnese. Savalas and his brother Gus sold newspapers and shined shoes to help support the family.

Reportedly, Savalas only spoke Greek when he entered grade school and he remained fluent in Greek, and proud of his Greek heritage, his whole life.

Savalas was a very generous and compassionate man. In his capacity as producer for Kojak, he gave many stars their first break. He was very proud of his Greek heritage, and he was also a strong contributor to his Greek Orthodox roots through the Saint Sophia and Saint Nicholas cathedrals in Los Angeles and was the sponsor of bringing electricity in the 1970s to his ancestral home, Ierakas, Greece.

As a philanthropist and philhellene, Savalas supported many Hellenic causes and made friends in major cities around the world. In Chicago, he often met with Illinois state senators Steven G. Nash and Samuel Maragos, also Greeks, as well as Greek millionaire Simeon Frangos, who owned the Athens North nightclub and the Flying Carpet Hotel near O’Hare Airport.

Telly Savalas speaks about his Greek heritage, in Greek: