Early in his career he played mainly brutish criminals until he changed his image completely in the 1970s, when he was cast as a homicide detective in the acclaimed TV-movie Kojak: The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973) and its spin-off series, Kojak (1973).
He used off-script phrases and mottoes in Greek during filming.
His younger brother, George Savalas, starred in Kojak (1973) and in "Kelly's Heroes" (1970) with him.
Father of Christina Savalas (born 1950) (with Katherine Nicolaides); Candace Savalas (born 1963) and Penelope Savalas (born 1961) (with Marilyn Gardner); Nick Savalas (with Sally Sheridan); and Christian Savalas (born 1985) and Ariana Savalas (with Julie Hovland).
Telly Savalas passed away on January 22, 1994. Just 1 day before his death, he celebrated his 72nd and last birthday with his family, friends and colleagues at the Universal Sheraton Inn in Universal City, California.
Was friends with actor John Aniston and named godfather of Jennifer Aniston.
Was originally slated to play Luke in Cool Hand Luke (1967), but the producers were unable to wait for him to complete his boat trip from Europe to the U.S. (Telly had a severe fear of flying). Therefore, Paul Newman played the role instead.
Early in his career, he directed stage plays at a theater in Connecticut.
He was an accomplished poker player.
His son Nick Savalas's half-sister, Nicollette Sheridan, and his former Kojak (1973) co-star, Kevin Dobson, both starred in the popular 1980s soap opera, Knots Landing (1979).
Before becoming an actor, he had many odd jobs, from newspaper vendor to lifeguard.
Was a member of Company C, 12th Medical Training Battalion, 4th Medical Training Regiment at Camp Pickett, Virginia.
Was the second of 5 children.
He had many hobbies including golfing, swimming, gambling, collecting luxury cars, spending time with his family, horse racing, motorcycle racing, watching football and reading romantic books.
Purchased a house in the Southern California desert community of Palm Desert because he enjoyed playing golf so much.
Interred at the George Washington Section of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California, USA.
Attended Columbia University in New York, New York.
When he worked as a lifeguard, he failed to save a man from drowning, and was troubled by the memory forever after.
Was involved in a serious car accident in Virginia during his hitch in the army.
Met his first wife (Katherine) at a Greek dance while attending Columbia University.
Hosted a popular radio program, "Telly's Coffeehouse," in the early 1950s.
Left index finger was deformed.
Reason why he sucked on a lollipop during Kojak (1973): to help him to quit smoking.
Graduated from Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park, New York, in 1940.
Met his last wife, Julie Hovland, on the set of Kojak (1973) in 1977. She was a travel agent from Minnesota.
Would always refuse to talk about his service during World War II.
Of Greek descent and spoke Greek fluently.
He didn't appear in his first film until he was 37.
Had a fear of flying. Ironically, he played a pilot in Capricorn One (1977).
Has the distinction of playing two Alcatraz prison inmates; Feto Gomez in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Cretzer in Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story (1980).
Was the first choice for the role of Harry Orwell in the TV series Harry O (1973). He declined due to filming commitments in Europe. David Janssen was eventually cast in the role.
Owned a wide variety of automobiles, including Cadillacs, Lincolns, Fords, Pontiacs, Mercedes and DeLoreans.
Loved gambling and was a very successful gambler, winning many Vegas poker tournaments and losing few.
After portraying Pontius Pilate in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), he chose to remain completely bald and this signature look, somewhere between the comic and the ominous, stood him in good stead in the years that followed.
In 1990 the city of New York declared Kojak: The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973) as the official movie of New York City, and awarded Telly with the Key to the City. The film was the one that introduced Savalas' most famous character, Lt. Theo Kojak, later made famous on its spin-off series Kojak (1973).
His mother, Christina, was a world recognized contemporary of Pablo Picasso, and Savalas himself released several records, the most remembered being his version of "If", that was #1 in Europe for 10 weeks in 1975.
He was also a strong contributor to his Greek Orthodox roots through the Saint Sophia and Saint Nicholas cathedrals in Los Angeles, and was the sponsor of bringing electricity in the '70s to his ancestral home, Yeraka, Greece.
Uncle of Australian-born actor Peter Cavnoudias.
Born on the same day as Benny Hill, who impersonated Savalas's Kojak (1973) character on The Benny Hill Show (1969).
Enjoyed watching Jeopardy! (1984).
Loved to read historical biographies and, somewhat surprisingly, romance novels.
Underwent successful surgery for prostate cancer in 1989, but in 1991 was diagnosed with bladder cancer which spread to his bones and pancreas.
Did the narration on several tourist information films on British Cities during the 1970s. Apparently he recorded them all during one visit to the UK to promote his Kojak show.
Best remembered by the public for his starring role as the title character in Kojak (1973).
Was very good friends with: Julie London, Doug McClure, Dan Frazer, Diana Rigg, Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, Robert Conrad, Larry Manetti, George Burns, Karl Malden, Ernest Borgnine, Irwin Allen, Robert Stack, Dinah Shore, Anthony Quinn, Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Angie Dickinson, Danny Thomas, Robert Alda, Jamie Farr, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Elliott Gould, Ricardo Montalban, Charles Bronson, Roddy McDowall, Don Rickles, Gene Barry, Michael Constantine, Rock Hudson, Shelley Winters, Gregory Peck, Dom DeLuise, Barbara Eden, Omar Sharif, David Janssen, Mickey Rooney, Beverly Garland, Mark Russell and George Savalas.
His father, Nick Savalas, died in 1948. His mother, Christina Savalas, died in 1988, at age 84.
He wasn't the first choice to audition for Kojak (1973), when Marlon Brando had been offered the role.
At first, Telly was an executive director and then senior director of the news special events at ABC, Savalas then became an executive producer for the "Gillette Cavalcade of Sports," where he gave Howard Cosell his first job.
Worked at the Garden City Theatre Center where he met and fell in love with Marilyn Gardner.
He was an active liberal Democrat.
Remained good friends with Kevin Dobson during and after Kojak (1973).
Was a spokesperson for the Players' Club Gold Card from 1981 to 1990.
Was raised nearby the same city as Brian Keith.
His eldest daughter, Christina, was named after his mother.
Lived with Sally Sheridan from 1969 to 1978. Her daughter from a previous relationship is Nicollette Sheridan, who considered Savalas as her father.
Was good friends with producer/director Irwin Allen, appearing in his Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), and Alice in Wonderland (1985).
Attended the funeral of best friend, Danny Thomas, when the actor passed away in 1991.
Never retired from acting.
His final films, Mind Twister (1994) and Backfire! (1995), were dedicated to his memory.
Named his son Nick Savalas after his father.
His mother, Christina Kapsalis Savalas, was a New York City artist, and his father, Nick Savalas, was the owner of many Greek restaurants.
Savalas qualified for the 1992 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, Nevada, and he finished among the top 25 players in the tournament.
Three of his six children followed in their father's footsteps into acting.
Most of his enlistment records were destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1973.
Was a spokesperson for the Ford Motor Company in the early 1980s.
Acting mentor and friend of Kevin Dobson.
In Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), he played a police captain, on Kojak (1973), he played a police lieutenant.
Appeared on the front cover of TV Guide 5 times.
Before he was a successful actor, in the United States Army during World War II, Savalas was working for the US State Department as host of the show, 'Your Voice of America.'.
Longtime friend Danny Thomas guest-starred on the last episode of Kojak (1973).
A singer, Savalas had some chart success. His spoken word version of Bread's "If" produced by Snuff Garrett was #1 in Europe for 10 weeks in 1975 and his sung version of Don Williams's "Some Broken Hearts Never Mend" topped the charts in 1980.
Telly Savalas passed away on January 21, 1994. His longtime friend and co-star, Burt Lancaster, passed away 9 months after him.
His parents, Nick and Christina Savalas, met in the United States and immigrated from Greece in 1915.
His paternal grandfather, Kostas the Painter, lived to age 100 and became one of the area's most famous artists.
Acting ran in his family.
Along with Bob Hope and Linda Evans, Savalas participated in the 'World Premiere' Television Ad introducing Diet Coke to Americans.
His father, Nick Savalas, was a hard worker, first at odd jobs, then as a businessman in cigarettes, restaurant supplies and general contracting.
Resided at the Sheraton-Universal Sheraton Hotel in Universal City, California, from 1973 until his death in 1994, becoming such a fixture at the hotel bar that it was renamed Telly's.
His brother, Gus Savalas, was a retired Foreign Service Officer who once served four years at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece.
As a philanthropist and philhellene, Savalas supported many Hellenic causes and made friends in major cities around the world. In Chicago, Telly often met with Illinois State Senators Steven G. Nash and Samuel Maragos, also Greeks, as well as Greek millionaire Simeon Frangos, who owned the famous Athens North nightclub and the Flying Carpet Hotel near O'Hare Airport.
Began his show Kojak (1973) at age 51.
Was a heavy smoker.
His mother, Christina Savalas, had left the village of Anogia, three miles from Sparta, as a child.
His mother, Christina Kapsalis Savalas, met his father, Nicholas, who had emigrated from the Village of Gerakas, as a youth, in the United States. She was chosen for her beauty to represent Greek women at the 1939 World's Fair.
Met Angie Dickinson in the movie Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971). They were friends until his death in 1994.
Also owned a stone ranch house in Rancho Mirage, California and a luxurious four-bedroom apartment in London, England.
He starred in 56 films, in 21 of them he was cast as a villain.
Before the Depression era of 1929, his father was a millionaire.
Originated the phrase, "Who Loves Ya, Baby?", for Kojak (1973).
Long lives ran in his family.
His ex-Kojak (1973) co-star, Kevin Dobson and Savalas's best friend, John Aniston, worked together on Days of Our Lives (1965).
Had attended an audition for the CBS anthology series Armstrong Circle Theatre (1950), intending to prompt an actor friend who was up for a role, in 1959. Instead, the casting director took Savalas's sinister demeanor into account and cast him in a character part, which led to other TV assignments and movie roles.
Long before Carrie McDowell became a member of the Christian pop/dance duo, 'Two Hearts,' with her husband, Michael Hodge, she once opened a show with him, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Up until his mother's death in 1988, his mother lived in a suite a few floors above his own at the Sheraton-Universal, with the actor paying all the expenses.
Before his death, he was worried about Nick, who had made tabloid headlines with his public spats with his ex-girlfriend Tori Spelling.
His ex-girlfriend, Sally Sheridan, filed a $5 million palimony suit against Savalas, eventually settling for a reported $1 million.
Ernest Borgnine and Angie Dickinson attended his funeral.
His ex-Kojak (1973) co-star, Kevin Dobson, had said in an interview, he was his best and dearest friend.
Survived by 5 children, 4 grandchildren, 2 brothers, 1 sister and his wife.
Was always close to his family.
At least nine actors named him as their favorite actor: Bruce Kirby, Catlin Adams, Sally Kirkland, Michael Constantine, Louise Sorel, Ken Kercheval, Tige Andrews, Danny Thomas and Alex Rocco, all nine worked with him on Kojak (1973).
His birthplace, Garden City, New York, is 24 miles, west of New York City, New York.
[11 December 1993] When Savalas was hospitalized at Huntington Memorial Hospital for bladder cancer, it had already spread to his hip bones and pancreas and was terminal.
Singing ran in his family.
He and his The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) co-stars Donald Pleasence and Max von Sydow all later played the Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld: Pleasence in You Only Live Twice (1967), Savalas in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and von Sydow in Never Say Never Again (1983).
On Kojak (1973), he worked with George Savalas's character at the police station, in real-life, Savalas was (of course) George's second older brother.
He had performed a voice over for a 70s nature series on Yosemite National Park.
On Kojak (1973), his character was of Greek American heritage, in real-life, Savalas was also of Greek American heritage.
Daughter Ariana sings and tours with Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Jukebox.
He was known to be a very busy actor.
He was most widely known to be a social butterfly.
He was scheduled to star in early 1976 in the move "Nick the Greek", as famed poker player Nick Dandolos. Donald Wrye was to direct. But the movie was never made.