On this day in 2016, George Michael (born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou), the Greek-Cypriot/English singer, songwriter and record producer, passed away at the young age of 53. Born in London to a Greek-Cypriot restaurateur father and an English dancer mother, George Michael rose to fame as a member of the music duo Wham! and later embarked on a solo career. Michael came out as gay in 1998; he was an active LGBT rights campaigner and an HIV/AIDS charity fundraiser. His personal life, drug use, and legal troubles made headlines during the late 90s and 2000s. Nevertheless, George Michael is regarded as one of the most significant cultural figures of the MTV era; at the time of his death, he had sold over 120 million records worldwide. Sadly and ironically, one of Michael’s hit songs (which he wrote and produced in 1984), “Last Christmas,” was certified quadruple platinum in December 2021. Both he and his sister, Melanie, died on Christmas Day three years apart.
On this day in 2018, Theodore Antoniou, the well-known Greek teacher, composer, and conductor, passed away at the age of 84 after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Born in Athens in 1935, Antoniou studied violin, voice, and composition at the National Conservatory and the Greek Conservatory of Athens and continued his studies of composition and conducting at the Munich Academy of Music and at the Darmstadt International Musical Center. He taught at Stanford University, the University of Utah, and the Philadelphia Musical Academy and was a professor among the composition staff at Boston University, where he taught since 1978. He also led and conducted the new music ensemble Alea III at Boston University. The ensemble regularly performs new compositions, works with numerous renowned artists, and has toured Europe on many occasions. In 1989, he became the president of the Union of Greek Composers. Founder of the Experimental Stage at the National Opera, Antoniou was the artistic director from 2004 to 2011. Throughout his life, he composed over 450 works, many of which were commissioned by major orchestras and foundations.
On this day in 1991, the icon of St. Irene of the St. Irene Chrysovalantou Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Astoria was returned via a postal worker five days after it had been stolen by gunpoint from the Church. The icon was painted by a Greek monk in 1919 – but gained worldwide notice in 1990 when some worshippers saw the icon weep tears of grief on the eve of the Persian Gulf War. The icon’s jewel-encrusted gold frame, valued at more than $800,000 in 1991, was gone, but the renowned ‘weeping icon’ was intact. The icon, a 6-by-8-inch painting on wood of the Greek Orthodox patron saint of peace and of the sick, is believed by many to possess healing powers.