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Legendary Greek Singer Tolis Voskopoulos Passes Away

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The late Greek singer Tolis Voskopoulos. (Photo by Eurokinissi)

ATHENS – One of the most popular personalities in the history of Greek song, Tolis Voskopoulos passed away July 19.

Considered a star of modern Greek folk music, Voskopoulos died Monday in an Athens hospital of cardiac arrest, a few days shy of his 81st birthday and several weeks after being hospitalized with respiratory problems, Greek media reported.

“Tolis Voskopoulos was fortunate to be appreciated by his colleagues and adored by the public,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement. “He was a true popular idol, a talented, intelligent performer who created a different, particular kind of entertainment on the stage.”

He “lived as he sang, sang as he lived and in the same way he left: ‘unrepeatable,’ as his melodic lyrics will say forever,” tweeted Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, using the title of one of Voskopoulos’ songs.

He was born on July 26, 1940 in Piraeus (Kokkinia), the 12th child of a large family of refugees from Asia Minor. Eleven older sisters preceded him which was the reason why his parents kept trying for a son. His father, originally from Smyrna, was hoping for his son to continue the tradition in the grocery store business that he, with great effort, had created.

"When I was born, and my father finally succeeded in having the coveted boy, he ran and took out cards and changed the shop’s sign: Charalambos Ioannou Voskopoulos and Son. I was always with him in the vegetable market, both in his travels and in his trade. But I saw that this job was not going well for me. From some traveling shows that came to Kokkinia, with Zazas, Kokovios and others, I was fed up and wanted to get involved in the theater. Around 15 I could not stand it and I told him. I was waiting for him to slaughter me. The son of a cabbage seller in the theatre? And then he says to me: ‘Let's go.’ And without knowing where we are going, he takes me to the National Conservatory of Kalomiris, which also had a theatrical department. That is when I first left Kokkinia and saw Athens. I could not believe it. On the way back, he told me: ‘In order for you not to complain to me some time that you wanted this to happen and I stopped you.’ This is what my wise refugee father told me and I am grateful to him. And every time I go on stage, even today when I am approaching my 80s, I bring him to my mind and I say to myself: ‘Look at me now,’ Tolis Voskopoulos had stated in a press conference before his concert at the Herodeion in September 2018.

He first appeared in the theater in 1958, at the age of 18, directed by Thanos Tragas, and five years later, in 1963, he made his film debut. His recording career began with the song Vima-vima (Step-by-step) by the composer Lykourgos Markeas. Voskopoulos’ singing career skyrocketed with the song Agonia in 1968 (composed by Giorgos Zambetas) which in a very short time exceeded 300,000 sales, an elusive number for that time.

He had an impressive range of collaborations, performing songs by Zambetas, Mimi Plessas, Akis Panos, Thanasis Polykandriotis, Marios Tokas, Giannis Parios, Giorgos Katsaros, Kostas Virvos, Phoebus and many others. In fact, some young singers had their front teeth ground in order to look like Voskopoulos (due to the artist's characteristic smile).

For over 35 years all his appearances were sold-out as adoring fans clamored to hear him perform hits such as Dio kardies (Two hearts), To feggari panothe mou (The moon above me), Ma ego agapo mia (But I love one),Kai esi tha figis (And you will you leave), among many others.

In the 1980s, Voskopoulos was named "the Prince of Greek song" with his gold and platinum selling records. Queues of fans circled the squares around the cinemas and theaters where he appeared. One afternoon in Thessaloniki, when he went to play billiards with popular singer Stratos Dionysiou, thousands of people spontaneously gathered outside the hangout and the police had to be called in so that the singers could leave the store.

In the summer of 2013, Voskopoulos returned to Piraeus, the city where he was born and raised. In a moving concert at the Veakeio Municipal Theater, he sang to the people who had gathered outside early since the tickets were sold out. The previous night, the artist was awarded by the then-mayor of Piraeus Vasilis Michaloliakos for his contribution to Greek song. "You always carry the place where you are born and grow up in your soul, wherever you are. I only feel emotion and deep joy that I return to Piraeus, that I love and have so many memories,” said Voskopoulos.

He had starred but also participated in many theatrical performances alongside Vasilis Avlonitis, Rena Vlachopoulou, Georgia Vasiliadou, Kostas Hatzichristos and others. Among his greatest hits were the musicals: Oi erastes tou oneirou (The Lovers of the Dream) from 1972 with Zoe Laskari, Tragouda Theatrine (1978 with Maria Aliferi), and Irthes san oneiro (You Appeared like a Dream) from 1998 with Angela Gerekou, which featured a script was based on how they actually met.

Voskopoulos’ work as a composer was also rich. Among the artists who have performed his songs are Doukissa, Marinella, Stratos Dionysiou, Antonis Remos and others. In 1971, he composed the song "Adelfia mou alites poulia" which was performed by Giannis Vogiatzis and won the first prize at the Thessaloniki Song Festival, while he participated in the same festival the following year, singing "Xanthi agapimeni Panagia," a song that he reportedly wrote for Zoe Laskari. In 1976, Voskopoulos wrote for Stratos Dionysiou "Apokimithika" which became a great success and Voskopoulos himself sang it on an album in 1985.

Voskopoulos was married four times. He first married Stella Stratigou (1960-1965), then Marinella (1973-1981), then Julia Papadimitriou (1990-1996). In 1996 in Corfu, he married the former MP and Deputy Minister and current President of the Greek Tourist Organization Angela Gerekou. Their daughter, Maria, was born in 2001.