LARGER-than-life Greek singing star Demis Roussos, who sold more than 60 million records worldwide, has died aged 68.
He had six top 40 hits in two years in the 1970s, including a No 1 with Forever and Ever.
With his flowing locks and trademark kaftan covering a generous waistline, his flamboyant style inspired satirists and he was a regular target for parody, with comics such as Freddie Starr and the Grumbleweeds taking aim at him.
He was immortalised for many in the Mike Leigh TV play Abigail’s Party, with Alison Steadman’s character’s expressing her devotion to Roussos, who she says “doesn’t sound” fat.
Roussos, who died from an undisclosed disease in a private hospital in Athens, once told The Scotsman the reason for his success was the sudden popularity of holidays in the sun.
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“They started wanting to go on holidays, like Spain and Greece,” he said. “My music came right on time. It was romantic Mediterranean music addressed to all the people who wanted to go on holiday. My music was liked by the people.”
Artemios “Demis” Ventouris Roussos was born in Alexandria, Egypt, which had a large Greek community, but his parents moved to Greece after the Suez crisis.
His formative years in the ancient port city’s cosmopolitan atmosphere were influenced by jazz but also traditional Arab and Greek Orthodox music.
He first came to prominence in the late 1960s with the band Aphrodite’s Child, formed with Vangelis Papathanassiou, the Greek composer best known by his first name whose score for the film Chariots of Fire won him an Oscar in 1982.
Yesterday, Vangelis paid tribute to Roussos in a statement, saying: “Demis my friend, I have just arrived in London and I’ve been told that you decide to take the long voyage. I’m shocked because I can’t believe that this happened so soon. Nature gave you this magic voice of yours which made millions of people around the world very happy.
“As for me, I keep those special memories that we share together those early days and I wish you to be happy wherever you are.”
He signed off with the words: “Goodbye my friend goodbye. Love Vangelis.”
Fans paid tribute online, with many posting clips and quotes from Abigail’s Party.
After his career took off, Roussos, who listed Mozart and Sting among his favourite composers, moved out of Greece to continue as a solo artist, recording hits such as Forever and Ever, My Friend The Wind, Velvet Mornings, Someday Somewhere and Lovely Lady Of Arcadia.
One of his earliest appearances on English-language TV was on the Basil Brush Show.
In June 1985, Roussos was among 153 people taken hostage when two Shiite Muslim militiamen hijacked a TWA Boeing 727 on a flight from Athens to Rome, and he spent his 39th birthday on the plane.
In exchange for Roussos and the other hostages, the group demanded the release of 17 of its militants and Iraqi Islamic Daawa Party members who had been arrested in Kuwait in connection with attacks that killed six people in 1983.
He was released unharmed five days later, and thanked his captors for giving him a birthday cake. The majority of the other hostages were held for nearly two more weeks.
Roussos enjoyed good food, which created problems with his weight which at one point topped 28 stones. He later co-wrote a book about obesity and detailed his struggles to control his weight. By 2013, he was largely chair-bound.
One of his final public appearances was in the Athens in 2013, when he received France’s Legion d’Honneur medal.