Greek Composer And Politician Mikis Theodorakis Has Died At The Age Of 96 Greek composer and politician Mikis Theodorakis has died. He was 96 years old. His music for Zorba the Greek was full of joy — but his own story was much more complicated.

Greek Composer And Politician Mikis Theodorakis Has Died At The Age Of 96

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Greek composer and politician Mikis Theodorakis died Thursday at age 96. His music for the film "Zorba The Greek" became a worldwide shorthand for a seize-the-moment kind of joyfulness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIKIS THEODORAKIS' "ZORBA'S DANCE")

SHAPIRO: As NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas reports, the composer was a much more complicated person than that music would suggest.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Mikis Theodorakis' most famous song is a carefree dance. But his leftist politics and his music went hand in hand, as he told NPR in 1994.

MIKIS THEODORAKIS: I put one questions. For whom I compose? My answer is I wanted to address to all my people. And if I write music for the Greek people because I'm Greek, I compose for all the people. I write for all the peoples of all the world.

TSIOULCAS: In the 1950s, Theodorakis went to Paris to study and compose. But he eventually decided to embrace the culture of his nation. So he returned to Greece and began writing music inspired by contemporary Greek poets and folk instruments like the bouzouki.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERA MAGIOU MOU MISEPSES")

THEODORAKIS: (Singing in Greek).

TSIOULCAS: For decades, his muse was the singer Maria Farantouri. They met in the early 1960s, when she was just 16 and he two decades older. But they connected instantly, as she told NPR in 2018.

MARIA FARANTOURI: He asked me if you know that you were born to become a singer for my work, my priestess. And I said, yes, I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STO PERIGIALI TO KRYFO")

FARANTOURI: (Singing in Greek).

TSIOULCAS: Not everything came so easily. Theodorakis was imprisoned and tortured multiple times - during World War II as a resistance fighter, during the Greek Civil War and then again when he was internationally famous in the 1960s by a military dictatorship which banned his music. Theodorakis was sent to a prison camp, but he still managed to get tape recordings and sheet music smuggled out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD")

THEODORAKIS: (Singing in Greek).

TSIOULCAS: When that regime fell in 1974, he returned to Greece a hero. He wrote songs, symphonies, ballets and operas, served in parliament and as a government minister. But by 1994, he told NPR he felt his countrymen had lost their way.

THEODORAKIS: We cry. The Greeks cry because we have not an objective today. Yesterday we have objective to put off the dictatorship. Today the objective is to find ourselves.

TSIOULCAS: But many fans felt that Theodorakis had lost his way. He blamed American Jews for the global economic crisis in the 2000s, and in 2011, he publicly declared himself an anti-Semite - all of this despite the fact that he guarded houses where Jews hid from the Nazis and later wrote a song cycle about a concentration camp with lyrics by a survivor.

Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONG OF SONGS")

ELINOR MOAV: (Singing in Hebrew).

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