Telly Savalas Biography

Telly Savalas was an American actor and producer well-known for his role in the television series ‘Kojak’. Read this biography to learn more about his childhood, life, works, achievements and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: January 21, 1922

Nationality: American

Famous: Actors American Men

Died At Age: 72

Sun Sign: Aquarius

Born in: Garden City, New York, USA

Famous as: American singer


Spouse/Ex-: Julie Hovland, Katherine Nicolaides, Marilyn Gardner

father: Nick Savalas

mother: Christina

siblings: George Savalas, Gus Savalas, Teddy Savalas

children: Ariana Savalas, Candace Savalas, Christian Savalas, Christina Savalas, Nick Savalas, Penélope Savalas

Died on: January 22, 1994

place of death: Universal City, California

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

education: Columbia University

Continue Reading Below

Telly Savalas was one of Hollywood’s most versatile showmen, widely recognised as the bald-headed cop from ‘Kojak’. His role as ‘Theo Kojak’, the lollipop sucking cop who used the trademark line ‘Who loves Ya, baby?’ in ‘Kojak’, is regarded as one of the best performances of his career. Some of his other renowned films include, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’, ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’, ‘On Her Majesty's Secret Service’, ‘The Scalphunters’, ‘Kelly Heros’, ‘Beyond the Poseidon Adventure’ and ‘Cannonba ll Run II’. His famous bald look and piercing eyes often landed him villainous roles including the treacherous, merciless villain ‘Ernst Stavro Blofeld’ in the James Bond film, ‘On Her Majesty's Secret Service’. He soon became known for the atrocious, sadistic and psychotic roles he played on screen. This Golden Globe Award-winning actor had a very humble beginning, as his family struggled to make ends meet. Along with his brother, he did a number of odd jobs to support the family and also served in the United States Army for a while. He was awarded the prestigious ‘Purple Heart’ medal for his military services and has been the recipient of a number of other accolades related to acting.

Childhood & Early Life
Recommended Lists:

Recommended Lists:

  • In the 1950s, he gained experience in production, while he hosted the ‘Your Voice of America’ series, an ABC radio show. The show garnered widespread attention and thereafter, he was signed on as the executive producer for the show, ‘Telly's Coffee House’.
  • In 1959, he got his first break in acting in, ‘And Bring Home a Baby’, an episode of ‘Armstrong Circle Theatre’, which ran on the CBS Network.
  • From 1959 to 1967, he made a number of guest appearances in ‘Naked City’, ‘The Eleventh Hour’, ‘The Untouchables’, ‘The Fugitive’, ‘Breaking Point’, ‘Bonanza’, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E’ and ‘The F.B.I’.
  • He played the role of ‘Brother Hendricksen’ in ‘77 Sunset Strip’, a private detective drama series and also appeared on ‘Acapulco’, an NBC adventure series.
  • In 1961, he was cast as ‘Detective Gunderson’ in ‘The Young Savages’, a crime- drama film directed by John Frankenheimer. The following year, he earned an Academy Award-nomination for his role as the sadistic, ‘Feto Gomez’ in ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’.
  • He became bald for the role of ‘Pontius Pilate’ in the 1965 American film, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’, directed by George Stevens.
  • In 1967, he acted in ‘The Dirty Dozen’, a war film, where he played the role of ‘Archer J. Maggot’, a religious and atrocious convict. The following year, he starred opposite Burt Lancaster in ‘The Scalphunters’, a film about racism during the Civil Rights Movement.
  • In 1969, he played the role of the villain ‘Ernst Stavro Blofeld’ in the James Bond film ‘On Her Majesty's Secret Service’. He also appeared alongside Clint Eastwood in ‘Kelly Heros’, a 1970 war comedy film about a group of World War II soldiers, directed by Brian G. Hutton.
  • He received great recognition and fame as an actor after he played the lead role in the CBS television movie, ‘The Marcus Nelson Mursers’.
  • Continue Reading Below
  • In 1973, he played the title role of a bald New York Police Detective, ‘Theo Kojak’ on the CBS television series ‘Kojak’.
  • His spoken word version of Bread's "If" was #1 in Europe for 10 weeks in 1975.In 1980, he starred in the TV film, ‘Alcatraz: The Whole Shocking Story’. The same year, he recorded ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mind’, which topped the Billboard charts that year.
  • In 1990, he appeared in the TV adaptation of ‘Kojak’, titled, ‘Kojak: It's Always Something’.
Major Works
  • He played the title role of ‘Theo Kojak’ in the television series ‘Kojak’. TV Guide placed his character at the number 18 position on the list of ‘50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time’. The series became so popular that it was adapted into a television series and was broadcast on the USA Network cable channel and on ITV4 channel, U.K.
Awards & Achievements
  • He received a ‘Purple Heart’, a United Sates Military decoration awarded in the name of the President, in recognition of his services during World War II.
  • In 1975 and 1976, he received the Golden Globe Award for the category of Best TV Actor – Drama for ‘Kojak’.
  • In 1983, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1948, he married his long-time girlfriend and college sweetheart, Katherine Nicolaides. The couple divorced in 1957.
  • In 1960, he married Mariln Gardner, a theatre teacher with whom he has two children. However, the couple got divorced in 1974.
  • In 1984, he married his third wife Julie Hovland, with whom he has two children.
  • He had a deformed left index finger and was diagnosed with cell cancer in the bladder and prostate.
  • He passed away due to complications from cancer at the age of 72.
  • This American actor and producer would often use off-script phrases and mottoes in Greek during shooting.

Telly Savalas Movies

1. The Dirty Dozen (1967)

  (Thriller, Comedy, Action, Adventure, War)

2. Cape Fear (1962)

  (Drama, Thriller)

3. Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

  (Drama, Biography, Crime)

4. Kelly's Heroes (1970)

  (Comedy, Adventure, War)

5. The Muppet Movie (1979)

  (Musical, Family, Comedy, Adventure)

6. The Slender Thread (1965)


7. Mackenna's Gold (1969)

  (Action, Adventure, Romance, Western)

8. The Young Savages (1961)

  (Crime, Action, Drama, Thriller)


Golden Globe Awards
1976 Best Actor in a Television Series - Drama Kojak (1973)
1975 Best TV Actor - Drama Kojak (1973)
Primetime Emmy Awards
1974 Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series Kojak (1973)
People's Choice Awards
1976 Favorite Male TV Performer Winner
1975 Favorite Male TV Performer Winner

See the events in life of Telly Savalas in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Telly Savalas Biography
- Editors,
Telly Savalas

People Also Viewed

Dwayne Johnson
Rock Hudson
Timothée Chalamet
Leonardo DiCaprio

Tom Cruise
Jerry Stiller
Brad Pitt
Jason Bateman