Kojak was a television crime drama like none other. Tally Savalas starred as the title character, Theo Kojak, a New York City Police Department Detective Lieutenant. The series aired on CBS from 1973 to 1978 and enjoyed high ratings for the bulk of it’s run.
Kojak was set in the NYPD’s Eleventh Precinct and filmed on location in New York City, although the building shown on-screen was actually the Ninth Precinct.
The series’ plot revolved around the tough, no-nonsense titular Lieutenant’s efforts investigating crimes. Kojak, who was bald, stubborn, and happened to have a love for Tootsie Roll Pops, wasn’t afraid to bend the rules if he thought that it would help bring criminals to justice. While striving to remain professional, he also could be quite witty and cynical.
While the show mainly focused on Kojak’s police work, it from time to time delved into other area’s of his personal life. In such episodes we saw Kojak for who he really was – a human being with emotions, triggers, and a incredible amount of drive.
But it wasn’t all just about him. Kojak received help throughout his journey from his longtime supervisor Captain Frank McNeil played by Dan Frazer. He was a man that meant well but hardly ever seemed to know what the heck was going on.
Then there Detective Bobby Crocker played by Kevin Dobson, Detective Stavros, played by Telly’s brother George Savalas, Detective Percy Saperstein played by Mark Russell, and Detective Lionel Rizzo, played by Vince Conti. This team of plainclothes sleuths helped round out Kojak’s squad and would become invaluable assets to him throughout his investigations.
After it saw a slump in viewership, Kojak canceled in 1978. The series has since done quite well rerunning in syndication on TV Land. In 1985, CBS aired a Kojak television film called Kojak: The Belarus Files. In 1989, ABC revived Kojak with five additional made-for-TV films.
Sadly, seeing as how it’s been quite some years since Kojak was saving the day and busting baddies on network television. The majority of the show’s cast members have since died. Join Facts Verse as we pay our respect to their fallen performers by taking a moment to reflect on Kojak Cast Member lives and careers.
Born Aristotelis Savalas on January 21, 1922. Telly, as he known professionally, enjoyed a career in the entertainment industry as an actor and singer that spanned some four decades.
He was known for his unique physical features and resoundingly deep voice. Telly was a striking man with piercing eyes and a bald head. He was the kind of person that could shut you up just by giving you one disapproving look. But at the same time he could make you laugh with his wry humor.
Telly was born in Garden City, New York to Greek parents Christina and Nick Savalas. His father owned a restaurant while his mother was a homemaker. Savalas had four siblings. His brother Gus sold newspapers and polished shoes in order to help pay the bills. Money was tight, but the Savalas family did their best to support each other.
After graduating from High School, Savalas drafted into the US Army in 1941. He was discharged in 1943 with the rank of corporal after sustaining severe injuries in a car accident. He spent the next year recuperating in the hospital with a concussion, sprained ankle and broken pelvis.
After his injuries healed, Savalas attended the Armed Forces Institute where he studied TV and radio production. In 1946, he received his Bachelors in psychology from Columbia’s School of General Studies. After which, he started work on getting his master’s degree while prepping for med school.
Instead of pursuing a career in medicine, however, Savalas got a job working for the State Department as a host of the ABC News program Your Voice of America. In 1950, he landed a hosting gig for a radio show called The Coffeehouse in New York City.
For the remainder of the decade, Savalas worked as an executive producer and director for various news and sports related television programs.
In 1958. he was cast in an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre after it was discovered that he could deliver a convincing European accent. He would later be called back in to appear in a couple more episodes of that program.
From there, Savalas became an in-demand guest star on television shows. Over the course of the next few years, he would appear on shows like Naked City, Diagnosis Unknown, The Witness, and The United States Steel Hour.
In 1961 he was a regular on the NBC series Acupulco – his first real recurring role.
After appearing in a few films including 1961s Mad Dog Coll and Birdman of Alcatrez in 1962, Savalas would return back to television appearing on hit shows like The Fugitive, The Twilight Zone and The Detectives.
Throughout the remainder of the 60s and into the 70s, Savalas would appear in supporting roles in dozens of films and television shows. He landed his first leading role in 1969s Crooks and Coronets. Throughout this era of his acting career, he got to work with industry legends such as Clint Eastwood in 1970s Kelly’s Heroes and Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in 1972s Horror Express.
Savalas played Theo Kojak from 1973 to 1978. At no other point in his career did he seem to thrive in a role as much as he did in that one. The role ended up winning him an Emmy and Two Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Drama Series.
After the show was canceled in 1978, CBS called him back to appear in a series of Kojak television films. The first aired in 1985 and another six were aired later on in the decade.
Following Kojak, Savalas continued to act and direct. Some of the films that he worked on following his days as a TV crime fighter included 1977s Beyond Reason, 1984s Cannonball Run II, and 1987s The Equalizer.
His final role was in three episodes of the television series The Commish in 1992.
Savalas died on January 22, 1994 – just one day after his 72nd birthday – from complication of bladder and prostate cancer.
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Daniel Thomas Frazser was born in New York City on November 20, 1921. During World War II, he served in the Special Services Division of the US Army. It was there that he got exposure to theatrical directing and writing.
Frazer’s screen career started in 1950. Some of his television appearances include roles in shows like Car 54, Where Are You, Blue Light, Barney Miller and The Untouchables. His first film role was in the 1963 comedy Lillies of the Field.
On Kojak, Frazer played Captain Frank McNeil from 1973 to 1978. He would later reprise that role in the 1985 television film Kojak: The Belarus File.
Frazer would continue to act up until 2009 when he appeared in his final role in the film The Pack. At the age of 90, Frazer died of cardiac arrest at his home in Manhattan on December 16, 2011.
Born Georgias Demosthenes Savalas on December 5, 1924. This heavy-set actor started acting doing stage theater not long after graduating from Columbia University where he studied drama. Like his brother, he also served in the United States armed forces in World War II.
While best known for his role on Kojak as Sergeant Stavros, George also made appearances in films such as The Slender Thread in 1965 and Kelly’s Heroes in 1970.
In his later years after retiring from screen acting, George performed in a number of off-Broadway theater productions. He also released a popular Greek language musical album and toured with his band.
He ended up dying of leukemia at the age of 60 on October 2, 1985.
Best known for his role as Detective Bobby Crocker on Kojak, Dobson was born in Queens, New York on March 18, 1943. He would later play M. Patrick ‘Mark’ MacKenzie on the CBS prime time soap opera Knots landing from 1982 to 1993.
More recently, he made an appearance on the NBC Daytime soap, Days of our Lives, in 2008 playing the character Mickey Horton. After that he would cast in a series of supporting roles in low-budget and direct to video films.
His last film role was in the 2004 short, Full Circle, as the character Henry.
His final television role was in an episode of 12 to Midnight in 2017.
Dobson died from complications of an autoimmune deficiency on September, 6, 2020. He was 77.
Conti, born November 22, 1930, played the character Detective Rizzo in 92 episodes of Kojak. He later reprised that role in the 1985 Kojak television film, The Belarus File. After that he shifted focused his professional career over to photography.
In 1993, it revealed that he had been involved Heidi Fleiss’ call girl ring and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Conti passed away at the age of 83 on September 5, 2018.
While it’s always sad to learn that one of our favorite television stars has passed on, it’s still nice to look back on their lives and careers and recognize their many achievements.
Who was your favorite character on Kojak? And can you think of any other cast members from the series that weren’t discussed in this video? Let us know in the comments down below.
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