Born Michail Theodorakis on the eastern Aegean island of Chios on July 29, 1925, he was exposed to music and politics from a young age. He began writing music and poetry in his teens, just as Greece entered World War II. During the war, he was arrested by the country’s Italian and German occupiers for his involvement in leftwing resistance groups. Some of those same groups opposed the government and monarchy that led Greece after the war, leading to a 1946-49 civil war in which the Communist- backed rebels eventually lost.
Theodorakis was jailed and sent to remote Greek islands, including the infamous “re-education”’ camp on the small island of Makronissos near Athens. As a result of severe beatings and torture, Theodorakis suffered broken limbs, respiratory problems and other injuries that plagued his health for the rest of his life. He suffered tuberculosis, was thrown into a psychiatric hospital, and was subjected to mock executions.
Despite the hardships, he managed to establish himself as a respected musician. He was best known globally for his scores for the films “Zorba the Greek” (1964), in which Anthony Quinn starred as an essence of tumultuous Greek ethnicity; and “Serpico” (1973), a thriller starring Al Pacino.