There is a memorable scene in Theo Angelopoulos’s award-winning film “Ulysses’ Gaze” when an exiled filmmaker played by Harvey Keitel is being driven from Greece into Albania by a cabbie portrayed by the late Thanassis Veggos. Their journey is hampered by a snowstorm and as the two men share a drink from the same bottle, Veggos delivers a lament for his fading homeland. “Greece is dying,” he says. “We’re dying as a people. We’ve come full circle; I don’t know how many years, among broken stones and statues... and we’re dying. But if Greece is going to die, she’d better do it quickly because the agony lasts too long and makes too much noise.”
Ironically, it was Veggos’s death last week that made these words ring truer than ever. Succumbing on May 3 to a long battle with ill health, Veggos’s passing seemed to confirm that Greece is watching its true heroes agonizingly disappear one by one. The 84-year-old had entertained Greek cinema, theater and TV audiences for more than 50 years with his own brand of frantic comedy and everyman pathos. But his reputation as a hardworking, honest and generous man was just as significant in establishing him as a respected and loved figure as his acting talent.
“I have been running fast all my life,” he told Kathimerini’s Maria Katsounaki in an interview a couple of years ago. “But I have never been able to break through the finishing tape because they keep moving it. Whenever I got close, they moved it a few meters away.”
Veggos has now crossed the finishing line and he will find a number of worthy competitors on the other side of the tape. He died three days after another respected figure passed away. Apostolos “Lakis” Santas died at the age of 89 on April 30. He had been one of the two men who climbed up to the Acropolis on May 30, 1941 -- a month after the Nazis had occupied Athens -- to tear down the swastika flag. It was one of the most significant and symbolic acts of resistance by Greeks during the Second World War. It led to Santas, and his partner Manolis Glezos, being imprisoned and tortured.
Santas died a few days after much-admired singer-songwriter Nikos Papazoglou drew his last breath. Many Greeks had a special fondness for Papazoglou not just because of his music but also because he shunned the trappings of fame. Papazoglou died just over a month after one of the men he collaborated most closely with, composer and lyricist Manolis Rasoulis slipped away. Like Papazoglou, he was loved for his great contribution to Greek music but also his depth as a human being.
A week after Rasoulis’s death, Greece also lost playwright and screenwriter Iakovos Kambanellis. Like the others, Kambanellis also left his mark on Greece, where he is considered to be the founding father of the country’s modern theater. Kambanellis worked closely with director Nikos Koundouros, who gave Veggos his first big break in his 1954 film “The Magic City.” Like Veggos’s character remarked, it feels as if Greece has come full circle.* greekcity.com.au *