Greek music great Mikis Theodorakis, composer of ‘Zorba the Greek,’ dies at 96

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Mikis Theodorakis, the beloved Greek composer whose rousing music and life of political defiance won acclaim abroad and inspired millions at home, died on Thursday. He was 96.

His death at his home in central Athens was announced on state television and followed multiple hospitalizations in recent years, mostly for heart treatment.

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Theodorakis’ prolific career that started at age 17 produced a hugely varied body of work that ranged from somber symphonies to popular television and the film scores for “Serpico” and “Zorba the Greek.”

But the towering man with trademark worker suits, hoarse voice and wavy hair also is remembered by Greeks for his stubborn opposition to postwar regimes that persecuted him and outlawed his music.

Teacher, intellectual, radical

As news of his passing swept through the nation, parliament held a moment of silence.

“Today we lost a part of Greece’s soul. Mikis Theodorakis, Mikis the teacher, the intellectual, the radical, our Mikis has gone,” said Culture Minister Lina Mendoni.

A towering man with a brooding look and a shock of wavy hair, Theodorakis evoked a progressive, democratic vision of Communism and of the world through his music.

But his political struggles, including imprisonment and torture for his leftist views, reflected a different side of Greece rarely seen by visitors.

His compositions ranged from the soundtrack to the 1964 movie -- an international hit starring Anthony Quinn as the lovable rogue who dances barefoot on a Cretan beach -- to the thumping intensity of “Romiosini” (Greekness) a series of rousing songs of identity and resistance.

“His body of work was a constant confrontation with injustice and defeatism, of new struggle and resistance,” the Greek Communist party KKE said in a statement.

His tunes gained widespread popularity, becoming anthems of the left and earning the disapproval of the right, meaning they were often banned.

Accused of guerrilla sympathies in the war between right-wing royalists and left-wing popular forces after World War Two, he was arrested and tortured in July 1947.

Under the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974 he was jailed and tortured again.

In later life he served two stints in parliament, for wildly different parties.

“I’m not a communist or social democrat or anything else. I’m a free man,” he once told Reuters in an interview.

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