Character actor George Savalas, best known for his portrayal of the portly Detective Stavros in television's "Kojak," the 1970s police drama that starred his brother, died Wednesday of leukemia at the UCLA Medical Center. Savalas was 58.
Billed in the credits as "Demosthenes" rather than by his real name during the first two seasons of the series' five-year run, Savalas gained a loyal following as the rumpled second fiddle to the dapper and street-wise Kojak, portrayed by Telly Savalas. Although Stavros was his best known role, it was just one of many.
He appeared on some of television's most popular series in the 1960s and '70s--"The Virginian," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and "All in the Family" among them. Between small-screen roles, Savalas made frequent appearances in off-Broadway plays, with roles in such productions as "Anna Lucasta" and "Death of a Salesman."
He also appeared in motion pictures, playing character roles in such films as "Kelly's Heroes," "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and "The Slender Thread."
Born in the Bronx, Savalas was one of four brothers. Although he was under age when his brothers joined the military service, he persuaded his father to allow him to join the Navy to be with them. It was there that he got a taste for show business, writing, producing and directing a pair of shows that toured military bases in the South Pacific. After his tour of military duty, he majored in drama at Columbia University.
After a short stint in the hotel business and later as the owner of a heating and air-conditioning company, Savalas turned to his first love and became a full-time Hollywood actor.
He is survived by his wife, Robin; six children; his mother; three brothers, Telly, Gus and Ted, and a sister, Katherine.