Demis Roussos, the Greek singer who is best known for his soaring voice, has died on January 25 at the age of 68.
Few people remember that the larger-than-life singer was held hostage for five days in 1985.
On 14 June, 1985, Demis Roussos boarded TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome – and found himself at the mercy of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Two hijackers, who had smuggled a pistol and grenades through airport security, held the passengers at gunpoint, demanding the release of 17 members of Hezbollah and the Iraqi Islamic Daawa Party.
The plane was diverted to Beirut, then Algiers, and 23-year-old US Navy Petty Officer Robert Dean Stethem was killed.
Demis Roussos spent five days – including his 39th birthday – in captivity, before being released in Beirut (another 40 or so passengers, mainly from the US, endured a further two weeks on the plane).
Speaking at a press conference after his release, Demis Roussos said he had been “treated quite well”.
“They gave me a birthday cake and they gave me a guitar, to sing,” Demis Roussos said.
“They have been very polite and very nice with us.”
Over the years, some papers said Demis Roussos had serenaded the hijackers. Others claimed the singer had pledged allegiance to Hezbollah.
Demis Roussos, who rarely spoke about the incident, admitted he was riled by the exaggerations in an interview with Australia’s Daily Telegraph in 2006: “It is not every day that a pop superstar gets involved with terrorism as a victim, so the press takes advantage of that to say things they think are funny.
”I would like to see the journalist [who first reported the claim] in front of gunpoint like I was. Believe me, if he was there he would be so scared he wouldn’t care about writing such stupidities like that.”
The experience changed the singer’s life, and Demis Roussos spent years promoting peace through music.
“Musicians are like a preacher, a teacher, an actor,” Demis Roussos said.
“You are the mediator who can transfer the energy of beautiful music to the others.”
Demis Roussos sold 30 million albums in Europe in the mid-70s, rivaling The Beatles in several countries.
His success earned him a mansion outside Paris, a private jet and an estate in the south of France.
But Demis Roussos wanted something more: to break the US.
In 1978, Demis Roussos bank-rolled a promotional trip to the US and Canada to the tune of $500,000 ($1.8 million in 2014 terms).
With a billboard on Sunset Boulevard and an exhausting run of TV appearances, Deemis Roussos set about his conquest.
The famous Greek singer told Canada’s Courier and Mail: “If I succeed, it will be as a pioneer of the European invasion, breaking a few barriers and not appealing only to Greeks or the French or the Italians in America.
“I am not like any other singer in America – I am a new creation.”
America, however, remained largely unmoved.
His album, That Once In A Lifetime, spent 11 weeks on the Billboard chart, but never climbed higher than 47.
Demis Roussos died on January 25 in an Athens hospital. He was 68. A cause of death was not made public.