Closer Weekly

TELLY SAVALAS

The Kojak star’s daughter shares memories of his secret soft side.

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During the ’70s, millions tuned in every week to enjoy Telly Savalas’ captivatin­g turn as the titular cop in Kojak. But the charismati­c Greek-American actor had a different favorite viewing event. “My brother Christian and I would put on these plays in our front hallway, and my dad would watch every one,” daughter Ariana Savalas tells Closer. “He had a cheeky, ear-to-ear grin on his face, and he would cheer loudly when we were done. He was so proud of us.”

The feeling was mutual, as Telly’s family deeply admired his rise from a shoeshine boy who spoke mostly Greek when he started school in New York to a respected actor who earned an Oscar nod opposite Burt Lancaster in 1962’s Birdman of Alcatraz. He did many other hit films (The Dirty Dozen) and TV shows, but his suave style on NYC’s mean streets as Theo Kojak made him a superstar. “The character was based on my dad’s personalit­y,” says Ariana. “He was a real pussycat — he was so charming, it made him such a stud!”

That he was. Telly was married three times and had six kids with four different women, yet Ariana says it was all one big happy family. “Every Christmas, his ex-wives would come over with the children,” recalls the singer, whose mom was Telly’s third wife, Julie Hovland. “My dad was the glue that held all these branches of our family tree together — he always said you don’t divorce the love out of a family.”

Telly had plenty of love to spread around. “My dad was a teddy bear — he never even yelled at us!” Ariana marvels. “He was the biggest pushover when it came to his kids. My memories are watching TV late at night with him, when I probably should’ve been sleeping, or the whole family having pancakes at 2 a.m.”

When Telly had to work, he brought his family with him. “If he did a movie where he had to travel, he had it worked into his contract — plane tickets for his family to see him,” says Ariana. “He was invited to the White House for a ball and he said if my brother couldn’t go with him, he would decline, so Christian got to go. We were constantly following him on his journey.”

Sadly, that journey was cut short when Telly succumbed to prostate cancer at age 70 in 1994. “We never knew he was sick because he kept his health private,” laments Ariana, who was only 7 years old at the time. “My dad wanted to be with his family — he didn’t want to spend his time in hospitals. He wanted to live every moment until it was his last, and that’s exactly what he did.”

Telly left his family and his fans with memories as sweet as Kojak’s trademark lollipops. “He had the most infectious happiness and joy — I still feel his energy and smile,” Ariana gushes. “He was truly the most wonderful father you could ever ask for.”

— Bruce Fretts, with reporting by Ilyssa Panitz

 ??  ?? BIG BROTHER Telly cast one of his three sibs, George (left), as Detective Stavros on Kojak. His brother Gus also guested. Ariana, 29, sings with Postmodern Jukebox’s North American tour
through Dec. 4.
BIG BROTHER Telly cast one of his three sibs, George (left), as Detective Stavros on Kojak. His brother Gus also guested. Ariana, 29, sings with Postmodern Jukebox’s North American tour through Dec. 4.
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 ??  ?? MARRYING MAN After divorcing college sweetheart Katherine Nicolaides, he was wed to Marilyn Gardner (left) from 1960 to 1974.
MARRYING MAN After divorcing college sweetheart Katherine Nicolaides, he was wed to Marilyn Gardner (left) from 1960 to 1974.

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