Telly Savalas rose to stardom later in life through the television show "Kojak" in 1973. He became an unlikely sex symbol which brought some marital challenges with it. But his third wife stood by him until his death.
In 1973, Telly Savalas rose to fame as a street-smart and handsome police detective, Theo Kojak, on the iconic television show "Kojak." Nine months after the television show premiered, Savalas cemented himself as an unlikely sex symbol.
Savalas continued to work as an actor even after "Kojak" ended, but his role on the show remained his most memorable. Even his famous catchphrase, "who loves ya, baby?" was his own, long before the television show started.
American Actor Telly Savalas Stars in the TV series "Kojak" in 1986, Actor Telly Savalas and his wife Julie arrive at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church to have their eight-month old daughter Ariana christened. | Source: Getty Images
SAVALAS'S LIFE BEFORE STARDOM
Savalas was born in 1922 and grew up in Garden City, a New York suburb, with a sister and three brothers. His father was a Greek immigrant who gained and lost millions of dollars twice in his life.
Savalas served in the army during World War II for three years. He was honorably discharged for being disabled. Following his exit from the army, he obtained a BA degree and continued to study psychology at Columbia University.
He had six children with four different women, but everyone knew they had to get along, and it sounds improbable, but they did.
American singer and actor Telly Savalas with trademark lollipop and sunglasses on his head, in 1974. | Source: Tony Evans/Getty Images
He then served as an executive in the State Department Information Service during Eisenhower's term as president. He was 37 years old when he began acting, first in theater and then soon after on "Kojak."
Early in his acting career, he often portrayed brutish characters. But when "Kojak" premiered, it transformed his image completely. He was able to channel more of his natural personality into the role, which contributed to his popularity with women.
AN EVENTFUL LOVE LIFE
Savalas' love life was as eventful as his career trajectory. Before becoming famous, he described himself as "Romeo inside a gorilla exterior." He shared relationships with an ever-changing array of women.
American actor Telly Savalas as Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak in the TV crime series 'Kojak', in 1975. | Source: Getty Images
He fathered four children with three women. He had one child, Christina, with his first wife, Katherine. He then had two children, Penelope and Candace, with his second wife, Marilynn.
In 1980, Savalas was sued with a palimony suit by his long-term girlfriend, Sally. They were together for nine years, during which Savalas supported her and a daughter she shared with another man.
Sally claimed that Savalas agreed that he would support both herself and her daughter, but Savalas had earlier tried to evict her from his Bel-Air home. The outcome of the alimony suit was never made public.
Actor Telly Savalas and his daughters pose for a portrait at Daughter Christina's Wedding 1991 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images
He later had a son, Nicholas, with his girlfriend, Sally Adams. The family got together every Christmas. His daughter, Christina Kousakis, explained, "He had six children with four different women, but everyone knew they had to get along, and it sounds improbable, but they did."
Kousakis is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Pasadena, California. She specializes in individual, couples, and parenting issues. Her webpage reads, "together, we examine the contents of your life, sift through the problems, and determine which elements will be useful on your journey and which should be discarded."
SAVALAS' THIRD MARRIAGE AND YOUNGEST CHILDREN
Savalas met his third wife, Julie, in the bar of L.A.'s Sheraton Universal hotel. She was 20 years old, and he was 30 years older than her. Julie recalled recognizing Savalas soon after his younger brother walked up to her with a message:
"I’m the brother of Telly Savalas. He would like to know if you’d have a drink with him."
Actor Telly Savalas and wife Julie Savalas attend the 21st Annual American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award Salute on March 10, 1993 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images
She was immediately attracted to him, “he had such an aura of power about him, such charisma,” she said. They got married in 1984. He told her, "My glue is you, baby, and I'm not a poet." They had two children together, Christian and Ariana.
"Every day, he brings home a surprise—a book, gum, balloons," said Julie. Savalas was a doting father despite his several flings. He was lenient with them and brought them along to New York when he had to be on the "Kojak" set.
"The challenge now more than ever is to live long enough to raise them," he said. He kept his family close; he lived with his mother until her death in 1988.
Actor Telly Savalas, wife Julie Savalas, son Christian Savalas and daughter Ariana Savalas attend the Young Musicians Foundation's Seventh Annual Celebrity Mother/Daughter Fashion Show on March 24, 1988 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in California. | Source: Getty Images
Savalas' younger brother, George, is even featured on "Kojak" as Detective Stavros. His daughter, Candace, played a supporting role as a secretary on the show. One of his other daughters, Ariana, followed in her father's artistic footsteps.
In 1994, Savalas succumbed to prostate cancer. He was surrounded by his family as he died in his sleep at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel.
She studied Shakespeare at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She later gained fame as one of the founding members of "Postmodern Jukebox," a band that remade pop music hits into different vintage genres.
Actor Telly Savalas and wife Julie Savalas attend the "Air America" Hollywood Premieres at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. | Source: Getty Images
Ariana and the "Postmodern Jukebox" band traveled the world and performed at renowned venues such as the "Radio City Music Hall," "The Greek Theater," and the "O2" in London.
In early 2020 Ariana released her first solo album, "The Dead Dance." The album is described as avant-garde and alternative, reminiscent of the pop stars in the days of Annie Lennox and David Bowie.
SAVALAS DIES OF PROSTATE CANCER
In 1994, Savalas succumbed to prostate cancer. He was surrounded by his family as he died in his sleep at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel. He had checked out of the hospital days earlier to spend his last few days with his family.
Ariana Savalas at the Polettos Palazzo at Spiegelpalast on November 15, 2019 in Hamburg, Germany. | Source: Getty Images
Many of his friends didn't know he was seriously ill until shortly before he died. His spokesman and friend, Mike Mamakos, said, "He was a wonderful, kind, benevolent, and generous man." He also added:
"I’ve been his publicist for 25 years and a friend for 30, and he only told me three weeks ago that he was sick, he didn’t want to burden his friends."
Close friends remembered his good-humored nature when an old lady asked for his autograph during a critical point in a blackjack game in Las Vegas. He happily gave her the autograph but lost hundreds of dollars.
Closeup of actor Telly Savalas. | Source: Getty Images
Film producer Howard W. Koch said, "he was an outgoing, sweet, wonderful guy, and he was loved." After "Kojak’s" run ended, Savalas continued to act in films and television. In 1983 he got a star on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame.