Larger-than-life Greek singer Demis Roussos dies at 68

Greek singer Demis Roussos, best known for his hit operatic pop ballads in the 1970s and 1980s, died in Athens at the weekend aged 68.

His death was announced in a brief statement Monday by the Igia clinic, where he was admitted some time ago with an undisclosed illness.

A public funeral is to take place Friday at the First Cemetery of Athens, a resting place for many Greek politicians and cultural figures.

Roussos, who was famous for his high-pitched voice and melodies inspired by Greek folklore, sold about 60 million records worldwide.

The pop star was briefly held hostage by Lebanese militants in 1985 when he was aboard a hijacked plane in Greece.

Roussos was born in Egypt on June 15, 1946 to a Greek father who was forced to take the family back to Greece in 1961 in the midst of the Suez Canal crisis.

He found fame in the 1970s after teaming up with fellow Greek musician Vangelis in the band Aphrodite’s Child.

He soon went solo and built a long career over which he sold millions of albums with such hits as “Forever and Ever”, “Mr Reason”, “Goodbye My Love, Goodbye” and “Quand je t’aime.”

“Along with Nana Mouskouri, he is one of the two biggest Greek pop music artists. They are the two great voices that put Greece on the map,” French-Greek TV personality Nikos Aliagas told AFP.

“We had known each other since I was a kid. He broke through borders and made his country proud,” Aliagas added.

Roussos had long struggled with his weight, but he later trimmed down and even penned a diet book called “A Question of Weight”. In subsequent years the singer suffered ill-health that kept him chair-bound. XXX

He recorded and toured until 2009, when he released his last album. One of his last public appearances was in Athens in 2013, when he received the Legion of Honour — France’s highest distinction — for his life’s work.

– ‘Polite’ hijackers –

But it was his melancholy face on 1970s and 1980s album covers that provided the most enduring image of the singer: a theatrical figure with a flowing dark beard, intense dark eyes and long hair thinning on top.

He carried this larger-than-life persona on stage with colourful clothing, and sustained it with a voice that belted out powerful operatic flourishes.

“Back in ’75 I had five albums in the top 10. Simultaneously. And among them the number one album and the number one single,” he said in an interview with The Guardian in 1999, referring to his success in the UK.

“And my name was mentioned twice or three times in the Guinness Book of Records,” he added.

Though he had been singing since childhood, Roussos began his musical career at 17 playing guitar and bass in a band called “The Idols.”

During one of the group’s performances, Roussos briefly replaced the lead singer and belted out his rendition of the American folk ballad “House of the Rising Sun”.

The audience, according to Roussos’ website, was instantly captivated by his voice. Emboldened by his success he began singing more and more, increasingly as a soloist.

Years later Roussos was aboard a TWA flight when it was hijacked by men with the Lebanese group Hezbollah on June 14, 1985.

In exchange for Roussos and the other hostages, Hezbollah demanded the release of 17 of its militants and Iraqi Islamic Daawa Party members, who were arrested in Kuwait in connection with attacks that killed six people in 1983.

Roussos, who spent his 39th birthday in captivity, was released four days into the ordeal, with most of the roughly 150 passengers held for nearly two more weeks.

“They gave me a birthday cake and they gave me a guitar, to sing,” Roussos told reporters at the time. “They have been very polite and very nice with us.”

He leaves behind two children, Emily and Cyril, who are both musicians.


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