January 21, 1922 – January 22, 1994
In my opinion there are three things that make Telly a legend:
1.He was in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, with acting genius Shirley Jones.
2.He recorded this.
Telly had a history of cancer. In 1989 he had cancer of the bladder that was treated successfully. In 1991 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. On December 11, 1993, Telly checked into the Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena to get the news that the cancer had spread to his bones and pancreas, and that it was terminal.
He returned to his asbestos lined apartment at the Sheraton Universal to continue munching on saccharine tablets. Seriously, how much cancer can a guy have? He was discharged on December 23rd, 1993 for his last Christmas on Earth.
When doctors told his wife Julie that there was nothing more they could do, she supposedly fired them all and went all holistic on him, complete with coffee enemas, same as Michael Landon.
Apparently during the Northridge earthquake, Telly screamed at his wife to get her and the kids out of the place, and leave him behind because he was dying. Of course she didn’t. She got him in a wheelchair and rolled him outside. He had 5 more days to live. Tori Spelling was dating Telly’s son Nick at the time. She visited Telly 3 or 4 times a week. God really must have hated Telly.
He had a hospital bed put in his 2 bedroom apartment. On the door of the room hung a sign that read “No One Can Enter Without Permission from the King.”
He barely woke during his last few days. On his 72nd birthday his family brought in balloons and cards, but Telly didn’t really comprehend. The next afternoon, his wife summoned everyone over because Telly wasn’t going to last much longer. Telly scanned the room, supposedly smiled and said to Nick, “I love you, son.” And that was that.
Funny about that because another report says that Telly’s sister Katherine was saying to him, “Boy, is Mama going to be mad at you (referring to their dead mother). ‘What are you doing here already?’ she’ll say.” Telly smiled at her comment then quietly drew his last breath. Both sweet stories, someone is lying. It was January 22, 1994, and Telly was 72 years and one day old.
I don’t have much funeral information except that it was held at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church.
Angie suck my Dickinson was there. No doubt she slept with him at some point. I mean before, not at the funeral silly. Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles… Telly’s step-daughter Nicollette Sheridan was there too. Robin sends, “Nicolette hated his guts for the way he treated her mother. She may have been in attendance in the time-honored tradition of making sure the son-of-a-bitch was really dead.”
Photo by Roger Sinclair
Findadeath.com friend Jay sends us the pictures of the church, and these great new pictures of Telly’s grave. Jay told me that Telly saved her life, which certainly goes against what most of us think of him. Jay says, “Telly came to my rescue twenty years ago, and I have never forgotten our wonderful time together. I kept our promise and he was right, as always.”
Thanks Jay, for showing us a different side of the man.
Trivia: Telly was Jennifer Aniston’s godfather. I’m sure she was at the funeral too, but Julie Brown hadn’t discovered her yet so nobody cared.
Dawn V. writes: In the movie The Break-Up Aniston says to herself “Who loves ya baby” in the mirror, I guess an homage to her Godfather? Great fun fact.
January 2002 – Findadeath.com friend Clint Ford sends this in: You made no mention of one of the jerk Telly’s biggest claims to fame, next to “Kojak”. He played the arch-enemy of James Bond, “Ernst Stavro Blofeld”, in the only Bond film starring George Lazenby — “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. He did an excellent job playing a ruthless, heartless ass.
On a side note, he created an unusual character-quirk for his version of Blofeld– one that people still wonder about to this day: as Blofeld, he smoked all the time… but he held his cigarette in a very untraditional, weird way… sort of as one would hold a pen, but he held it right at the end of the filter. He smoked them easily this way, but how he took drags off the cigarette while two fingers and a meaty thumb were over the filter is beyond me. Cool, Clint. Thanks.
April 2002 – not to be deterred by positive comments about Telly, Findadeath.com friend Barb sends us this: I was in Vegas (of all places) when I heard the news of Telly’s death. I was in a limo with a bunch of other people, and one of the guys I was with asked the driver if he’d ever met Telly. The driver said that Telly–the big time gambler–liked to sit at the $1 tables, gamble all night (with stacks of $1 chips in front of him) and get drunk from all of the free cocktails he’d get. He would treat everyone around him like dirt and act like the big celebrity jagoff. In the words of the limo driver, “Fuck Telly–he was an asshole.” How is THAT for a parting tribute?
I wonder, did Telly like watching the telly?
A different view on Telly, March 2003, from Findadeath friend Fred Stewart:
I guess I was lucky when I met Telly in April of 1980. He was not only not rude, but he was truly a great guy to be around. He was in Portland to play in a Celebrity Pro/Am here. He was not the only star at the event, but was by far the nicest, and easiest to approach.
What I remember most about him was his flirting. He flirted and made moves on every female at the event. Did not matter if she was old, young, with her husband or boyfriend, worked for the country club or just happen to be driving by. The ladies LOVED him. It seemed all in fun, as everyone was having a good time. Who knows, maybe that is why he was in such a good mood. Too busy scamming on the ladies. (I am sure the booze had something to do with it too).
Since then, he has been on my “Cool to Meet” list. I have met many famous people since then and few have topped his class that day.
I love your site. You put AJ Benza to shame….
Thanks for the info, Fred!
UPDATE February 2006, from Findadeath friend Jaenne:
I worked from 1991-1993 at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel. I was originally in the coffee shop as cashier, and later as a front desk clerk. I actually got to know the Savalas family very well. Now mind you, I was a good-looking 19 year-old blonde, so his treatment of me may have been different from the treatment of chess players. He was very sweet to me, but at 19, I was probably in his potential dating pool. He moved into the hotel to be close to his elderly mother, who also had a residence room at the hotel.
He was tied very strongly to his family, which may be the cause of his rudeness to many outsiders. His sister and brothers were permanent leeches attached to his fortune. His brothers were probably the two sycophants sitting in the cafe with him. He had a designated table in the cafe for his family and only family sat with him. His siblings nagged him into failed business venture after failed business venture to help “start them to become self-reliant.” He even, after much nagging, bribed the restaurant/bar manager to allow a niece to perform in the bar. Her singing was so bad, anyone working in the area wadded napkins into our ears to try to block it out.
The worst was his brother, Gus, who was a dead ringer for Telly, except he had a full head of Harpo Marx curly hair. Telly was treated like a walking ATM. His mother was a silent film star in Greece, and was a flourishing artist, who had sold many painting and lithographs prior to her death. She was a wonderful woman. It was a pleasure to get to know her. With people Telly was comfortable with he was a generous to a fault, and that was mostly his family. He did not like being a celebrity. He pretty much wanted to be left alone. His family milked his celebrity more than he did. I think he probably felt much rage towards his family, and it came out in the way he acted to the public. After all, he didn’t have to sit with those strangers at breakfast. Right?
Mind you, he had faults. He had a wandering eye, and it cost him many marriages. He neglected his child(ren?) I remember his son coming to spend time with him and he just gave the child $100 to go play in the arcade. The child really wanted to be with Telly, and the neglect turned the kid into a brat. By the time I met the boy, he was sticking his hand out for money as much as his aunt and uncles. I’m not disputing his being a jerk, but he was a jerk I pitied in many ways.
UPDATE DECEMBER 2000,
Findadeath.com friend Sean Fitzpatrick sends in his reminiscence of Telly. I love this kind of stuff.
“Thought you might be interested in my encounter with the rude and arrogant jerk known to the world as Telly Savalas. In May of 1980, I was participating in a chess tournament at the Sheraton Universal. A few friends and I decided to stop by the coffee shop to get some food to go. We were in full chess nerd regalia, including roll-up chess boards protruding from backpacks, etc. Seated at a table near the entrance to the coffee shop was Mr. Self-Importance himself and two sycophants.
Mr. Savalas looked us over with contempt and stated to his companions in a voice intended for us to hear “All chess players are fags.” The sycophants, of course, merely nodded their heads in agreement. I was pretty young at the time, and far too intimidated to confront this celebrity asshole with his own ignorance, but it still grates every time I think of it. He projected an attitude that clearly communicated the belief that no-one would dare challenge him, and that he felt entitled to insult complete strangers with impunity. I wish I had possessed at the time the courage and the presence of mind to remind this arrogant creep that Humphrey Bogart was not only a dedicated chess player, but was also a better actor that Mr. Savalas ever gave any evidence of being. Or perhaps, to just tell him to go fuck himself.
After twenty years, I am finally presented the opportunity to get this off my chest. Thanks, Scott. (You may use this e-mail in any way you see fit). Keep up the good work!”
No, thank you.
And yet MORE! March 2001
Read the tripe on Telly S. Way cool. I have a story, fairly marginal, however, its raining in Palm Desert, and you are to be regaled.
I’m in the LA airport circa 1977 with Doug Erhard, my best friend in the 70s. We are at the bar waiting for some flight to Nirvana slugging down suds, and in waltzes Smelly and a couple of bone-crushers with bad attitudes and ties to match (remember the 70s?). Standing at the bar to my left ((action heroes never sit in a bar, and watch the door constantly for opportunities to “make your day” (remember the 70s?)), Shelly orders a beer in a glass (he didn’t say anything about “dirty” glasses or “fresh horses” to his credit), and begins to suck it while the two suits size up a pretty in-offensive crowd of onlookers. Doug and I don’t say shit.
I catch Jelly out of the corner of my eye checking us out (Shit-head is waiting for the time-honored opportunity to act disdainful after our approach to the throne). Doug and I don’t say shit. Pregnant pause, Deli continues to stare, and finally, Doug says, “Hey, aren’t you Colombo?” I’m scared shit-less, which makes it even funnier and harder to stop laughing. Belly (with that fucking I-Max dome on his neck) slams down his glass, gives us the required “if looks could kill” stare, and blows out of the place with Seal Team 2. Whatever…..
Michellise from Chicago writes: Here’s a great story about Telly my step-father told me. During the 1970’s, he worked at the Palmer House Hotel in downtown Chicago. Very swanky place, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton stayed there. My step-father was working as a bartender, when Telly Savalas came in for a drink. I was told that Telly was a great person to talk with and that my step-father called my mother and Telly got on the phone to say hello to her. He wasn’t arrogant at all my step-father said. Telly closed the bar that night. I guess he likes who he likes.
Telly’s official website can be found here.