Irene Papas


Irini Papa (born Irini Lelekou, Chiliomodi, Corinthia, 3 September 1926 – 14 September 2022) was a Greek actress with an international career. In 1995 she was awarded – among many other distinctions – the Order of the Order of the Phoenix.


She was born on 3 September 1926 or 1929 in Chiliomodi, Corinthia, as Irini Lelekou.


She was born into a family of teachers, including her grandfather, parents and aunt who influenced her education. Her mother Eleni Lelekou, née Prevezanou, was a teacher from whom she had heard many fairy tales and stories. Her father Stavros Lelekos was a teacher of classical drama, was the headmaster of the school in Sofiko, Corinthia, and taught her to read ancient Greeks. Her parents had four girls. Her sisters are the doctor Evangelia Lelekou-Manthopoulou and the literary artist and poet Despina Lelekou-Tataki. Her great-grandfather, Stavros Lelekos, wrote books for secondary education. Her nephew is the director and screenwriter Manousos Manousakis, son of Despina’s sister. Also her nephew is the actor Aias Manthopoulos, son of her sister Evangelia.

She had no children of her own.

Marriages and relationships

In 1947 she married the director and actor Alkis Papas (1922-2018), with whom she divorced in 1951, but has retained his surname to this day. According to other reports, their marriage lasted from 1943 to 1947.

She had revealed in 2004 to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, after the death of Marlon Brando, that there had been a long and “secret love” between them. She had said that they had met in 1954 in Rome. She said she held him in high esteem, he was the “great passion of her life” and they last met in 1999 in Athens.

She started at the age of 15 as a radio producer, singer and dancer at various events. She attended acting classes at the Drama School of the National Theatre, then called the National School of Classical Theatre with great teachers such as George Glinos, Nikolaos Paraskevas, Loukas Karintinos, Pello Katseli, Dimitris Rodiris, etc.

Cinema and theatre

He first appeared in the theatre in 1948, in the Sakellariou-Giannakopoulos revue People… People, at the Lyric Stage, with the most important actors of the time. In his autobiography, Alekos Sakellarios writes that he first saw it at Syntagma. Because of her appearance, her dress and her walking she seemed to him like a “living Caryatidas”. He introduced her to Finos and played her in her first film in 1948, which was Nikos Tsiforos’ Lost Angels.

In 1951 she became internationally known with the social drama film Dead State of Finos Film, in Mistra, which was screened, representing Greece, at the Cannes Film Festival, by director Frixos Eliades and co-starring George Fountas (who appears for the first time in cinema) and is set in Mistra. Three of the films in which Irini Pappa starred were nominated for an Oscar for Foreign Language Film, with Costas Gavras’ French-language Z winning, while two Greek films, adaptations of ancient tragedies, Electra and Iphigenia, were also nominated.

Irini Pappa participated in many Hollywood productions, while she also starred in the Broadway theatre in 1967.

In 1979 at the Herodeion, when Antony and Cleopatra was to be performed, she found herself in a dispute with Dimitris Horn, who had expressed disparaging remarks against her.


According to critic Roger Ebert, she had three “disadvantages”, her height, which made many actors not want to stand next to her, her beauty that was competitive for other actresses and her “heavy” Peloponnesian accent. The Portuguese director, Manoel de Oliveira, had said that she was “the beautiful and majestic figure who embodies the female soul in its deepest expression and the image of Greece of all time”.


In Greece it has not been recognized as much as internationally. He was awarded the Order of the Order of the Phoenix by the President of the Hellenic Republic Costis Stephanopoulos in 1995.

In 2008, Italy honoured her with the “Rome Prize” at the ancient theatre of Ostia Antica. Then when she received the award she had said: “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, I can only say that Athens will always be my mother, but Rome, at the same time, is my second mother, by clear choice”. In Italy she worked with many Italian directors and the Italians loved her, calling her Bella Greca and Irene Nostra (i.e. “our Irene”). She fled to Italy during the years of the junta, as she was a supporter of communism.

Portugal has shown its appreciation by supporting the theatre it established there to perform ancient tragedies. It was for this theatre that Irene Pappa resided in Portugal during her last active years.

In 2000 she was awarded the title “Woman of Europe” and in 2009 she was awarded the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale Theatre by the hands of director Maurizio Scaparo.

In recent years he was also awarded an honorary doctorate at the Tor Vergata University of Rome in Italy. In total he received more than 24 honours and awards.

He was also involved in politics after the post-war period. He was a member of the KKE, but he admired the personality of Andreas Papandreou. She had become friends with Dimitra Lianis, when in the last government of Andreas Papandreou Lianis was attacked by the media, Irini Pappa defended her.

For example:

More information about each performance is displayed by activating the link in the name of each performance


  1. Ειρήνη Παπά
  2. Irene Papas
  3. «Πέθανε η σπουδαία ηθοποιός Ειρήνη Παπά».
  5. 3,0 3,1
  6. «Muere la actriz griega Irene Papas a los 93 años». ELMUNDO. 14 de septiembre de 2022. Consultado el 14 de septiembre de 2022.
  7. Presse, France (14 de septiembre de 2022). «Muere la actriz Irene Papas a los 93 años». elperiodico. Consultado el 14 de septiembre de 2022.
  8. a b «Irene Papas – Biografías – Edad | Biografía | Películas | Noticias | Filmografía | Premios». Decine21. Consultado el 14 de septiembre de 2022.
  9. «¿Qué fue de Irene Papas?». La Vanguardia. 13 de octubre de 2017. Consultado el 14 de septiembre de 2022.
  10. «Irene Papas Comes Forward About A Love Affair With The Late Marlon Brando». 7 de julio de 2004. Consultado el 14 de septiembre de 2022.
  11. Greece’s Irene Papas, Who Earned Hollywood Fame, Dies At 93 Bloomberg. 14.9.2022. Viitattu 14.9.2022. (englanniksi)
  12. a b Michaela Zee: Irene Papas, ‘Zorba The Greek’ and ‘Z’ Star, Dies at 93 Variety. 14.9.2022. Variety Media, LLC. Viitattu 15.9.2022. (englanniksi)
  13. a b c d e f g h Ronald Bergen: Irene Papas obituary The Guardian. 14.9.2022. Guardian News & Media Limited. Viitattu 15.9.2022. (englanniksi)
  14. a b c d e Anastasia Tsioulcas: Irene Papas, celebrated Greek actress from ‘Zorba’ to ‘Iphegenia,’ has died NPR. 14.9.2022. Viitattu 15.9.2022. (englanniksi)
  15. ^ a b (EL) Alexandra Tsolka, Ειρήνη Παππά: Η γυναίκα – Ελλάδα (Irini Pappas: La donna – Grecia), su, 15 febbraio 2018. URL consultato il 18 giugno 2020 (archiviato il 4 giugno 2018).«Είναι 3 Σεπτεμβρίου 1926. (è il 3 settembre 1926)»