On this day in 1788, Lord Byron (née George Gordon Byron), the famous philhellene, poet, and satirist, was born in London, England. He is regarded as one of the greatest British poets and is best known for his amorous lifestyle and his brilliant use of the English language. Byron was first introduced to Greece when he took his seat in the House of Lords and subsequently embarked on a grand tour with his long-time friend. Greece made a lasting impression on Byron. The Greeks’ free and open frankness contrasted strongly with the English reserve. He studied the language and wrote poems about Greece. Inspired by the culture and climate, he wrote a letter to his sister in which he said, “if I am a poet … the air of Greece has made me one.” In 1823, Byron agreed to act as agent of the London committee, which had been formed to aid the Greeks in their struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. Byron went to Kefalonia, sent 4,000 pounds of his own money to refit the Greek naval fleet for sea service, and took personal command of a Greek unit of elite fighters. A year after he went to Greece, he fell ill and eventually died in Mesolongi at the young age of 36. He was deeply mourned in England and became a hero in Greece.
On this day in 1973, a few days after his father Aristotle Onassis’s birthday, Alexander Onassis, the Greek heir of the Onassis family, died at the very young age of 24 of a brain hemorrhage after his plane crashed at the Athens airport. Alexander was born in New York the day his father launched an 18,000-ton tanker, the biggest ever built in the United States at that time. Alexander became president of Olympic Aviation, a subsidiary of his father’s Olympic Airways, which owned a fleet of light aircraft and helicopters for rent to tourists and businessmen. According to the New York Times, he often piloted aircraft on medical emergency missions, mostly to rugged islands or mountainous villages to transport patients needing hospital care. Alexander was buried next to the chapel on his father’s private Ionian island of Skorpios.
On this day in 1994, Michalis Vranopoulos, the former chairman of Greece’s largest state-owned bank, was shot and murdered at the age of 48. Vranopoulos headed the National Bank of Greece until a change of government a few months prior to his death. He was shot four times (in the chest, stomach, leg, and arm) as he and his driver walked to his office in downtown Athens. Vranopoulos had been testifying in a judicial investigation into his bank’s sale of a majority stake in a cement company in 1992. The PASOK socialist party which had returned to power had charged that the $650 million price for the sale (which took place when the Conservatives were in power) was scandalously low. The assailants escaped on a scooter and no one claimed responsibility for the attack. However, then-Public Order Minister Stelios Papathemelis said the ballistics tests showed the .45 caliber handgun used in the attack was the same one the November 17 terrorist organization used in the 1975 murder of Central Intelligence Agency station chief Richard Wells.
On this day in 2015, Demis Roussos, the Greek singer, songwriter and performer, passed away from cancer at the age of 68. Born Artemios Ventouris-Roussos in Alexandria, Egypt, Demis was raised by a classical guitarist and engineer father and an amateur actress mother. As a child, he studied music and joined the Greek church’s Byzantine choir in Alexandria. His formative years in the ancient port city’s cosmopolitan atmosphere were influenced by jazz – but also traditional Arab and Greek Orthodox music. After his parents lost their possessions during the Suez Crisis, they decided to move to Greece. As a band member, Demis is best remembered for his work in the progressive rock music act Aphrodite’s Child; however, he is also known for his solo vocal career. Demis sold over 60 million records over the course of his career and became an ‘unlikely kaftan-wearing sex symbol.’ His funeral was held at the First Cemetery of Athens, the burial place of many Greek politicians and cultural figures.