Obituary: Aliki Vouyoulaki

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The Independent Online
There are many Greek words to express the range of emotions covered by the Anglo-Saxon monosyllable "love". One of them is untranslatable into English - agape; it contains elements of endurance, fraternity, trust, quiet adoration.

When Aliki Vouyouklaki, Greece's most enduring actress since the 1950s and a woman of substance, died last Tuesday, thousands queued outside the Athens chapel where she lay in state to express their agape. Most people wore something black, from a young couple of anarchists to portly Athenian grannies.

Aliki was born - as Greeks finally discovered - in 1933, in Maroussi, just outside Athens. At her birth, her grandmother placed next to her cot a teaspoon of nerandsi syrup (made from sour oranges), one of vanilla and one of morellos to sweeten the Fates and make them look after her granddaughter. Once when Aliki was asked who ate the offerings, she answered, "Time itself, that is why it has been so good to me", though science also played a central part in keeping her looks so young.

She grew up during the merciless years of Nazi occupation and then during the Greek civil war, losing her father in 1944. In 1952 she secretly took the exams for a place at the National Theatre's School of Drama, in Athens, and was accepted with the role of Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The same year, a fellow student wrote a letter back home calling on everybody to look out for her. Her professional acting debut took place a year later when she played Luison in Moliere's Le Malade Imaginaire. She became a household name with the Athenian theatre-going public performing the lead role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. By 1960, the then Greek Prime Minister, Constantine Karamanlis, said she was his most "dangerous opponent" when it came to grabbing the headlines.

Her physical assets consisted of a disarming smile, shiny, pussy-cat eyes and her blonde mane. Most of her adoring public would agree that she was no sex-bomb but all heart with a tremendous sense of fun. From the days when as a little girl she used to pose in front of the mirror till her death she never stopped practising her roles and sharpening her unique style. God may have created Brigitte Bardot, but there is no doubt that Aliki created Aliki, and this takes brains. Of all the Greek actors, she is the only one who managed to negotiate royalties from every television channel that played her films.

Her cinema roles were usually those of a charming young lady, invariably in love. She starred in over 40 films, the most famous of which are To Xilo Vgike ap'ton Paradiso ("Smacking was made in heaven"), To Klotsoskoufi ("Knocked About") and Mandalena, for which she received the prize for best leading lady at the inaugural Greek Cinema Festival in Thessalonike, in 1960.

Her voice inspired composers such as Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis, Stavros Xarhakos, and lyricists such as Nikos Gatsos and Alekos Sakellarios. In the 1960s, children in Greece used to sing a ditty to decide "who is it". The words involved the most famous actors of the day: "Jenny Karezi, Kostas Kakavas, Aliki Vouyouklaki, you are it".

During the Junta (1967-74), Aliki was one of the few actors to refuse to comply with the bullying of the Colonels. After being heralded as the guest singer at a propaganda party for the regime she swallowed as much ice as it took to (temporarily) destroy her voice, thereby publicly and safely displaying her disagreement.

In 1971 she inaugurated the Aliki Theatre in Athens with her husband and fellow actor Dimitri Papamichael. They divorced in 1975 and she went solo. Hard work and endless theatrical tours ensured that her star never faded. Even the Turkish newspapers mourned her passing on their front pages.

Aliki Vouyouklaki was a Greek phenomenon for the Greeks; she was full of mirth, fantasy and joie de vivre - a powerful symbol of Greek womanhood at its most devastatingly charming and independent. Aliki Vouyouklaki, actress: born Maroussi, Greece 20 July 1933; married 1964 Dimitris Papamichael (one son; marriage dissolved 1975); died Athens 23 July 1996.