Vicky Leandros, one of the biggest stars that has ever graced the Eurovision stage has celebrated her 70th birthday this week. The Greek-German singer has a big connection to the contest and an impressive, life-long career to look back to, that does not include any scandals or bad press. We would like to take this opportunity, to look at some of the greatest achievements of this international superstar.
Vicky was born on the Greek island Corfu and came to Germany in 1958, when her parents decided to move to Hamburg. In 1961, her parents got divorced, which was regarded as highly unusual at the time, and Vicky continued to live with her father. Her father was a big role model to her and supported her dream of becoming a musician, by trying to get her established in both the German and the Greek music industry and getting her singing, ballet and guitar lessons from an early age.
Her real name Vassiliki Papathanasiou was regarded as unsuitable for a Schlager career, so she took her father’s name Leo Leandros and became Vicky Leandros. Leo himself studied law and wanted to become State Secretary in the Greek Ministry of the Interior, but he gave up his career in politics to fulfill his true dream of becoming a Schlager star. And he succeeded, landing a few hits in both Greece and Germany!
In 1965, Vicky released her debut single “Messer, Gabel, Schere, Licht” which made the German single charts and was successful enough to get her a contract at the record label Philips and release a debut album, one year later.
L’Amour Est Bleu
The real breakthrough however came in 1967, when she represented Luxembourg at the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna with the song “L’Amour Est Bleu” and finished in 4th place. Despite not winning the competition, the song became a huge international hit and an orchestral version by Paul Mauriat even remained in the top position on the US Billboard Charts for five weeks. To this day, “L’Amour Est Bleu” is one of the best known tracks that has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Fun fact, Vicky also participated in the French national final in 1967 with the song “Les Amoureux” but lost to Noëlle Cordier with “Il doit faire beau là-bas”, so she entered the competition for Luxembourg instead. While Cordier won the national final against Vicky and also finished one place higher than her in the Eurovision Song Contest, her song never became a huge hit.
After a few more hits in Europe, Vicky finally sought redemption and decided to return to the Eurovision Song Contest. She represented Luxembourg for a second time in 1972 with the song “Après toi” which was composed by her father Leo Leandros under the pseudonym Mario Panas.
During the voting, Vicky took on the lead with the very first country and remained in the top position throughout the entire process, winning the competition ahead of The New Seekers and Mary Roos.
“Après toi” also became a huge international hit that peaked the charts in several, different countries and Vicky even recorded versions in Greek, German, English, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. The track sold more than 7.8 million times worldwide.
Vicky continued recording her songs in multiple languages, guaranteeing her a breakthrough all over the globe and becoming a well known name even outside of Europe. She gave concerts in South Africa, Asia, Latin America, the United States and Canada.
In 1974, she released the song “Theo, wir fahr’n nach Lodz”, which was a renewed version of the famous war song “Rosa, wir fahr’n nach Lodz” which was officially released in 1915 during World War I in Austria but its origins go back all the way to the Thirty Year’s War. “Theo, wir fahr’n nach Lodz” was Vicky’s biggest hit in Germany, reached number 1 in the charts and remained in the top 10 for 18 weeks.
Like most of her tracks, this one was also translated into several languages, including an American version (“Henry, Let’s Go To Town”) and a British version (“Danny, Teach Me To Dance”). The German newspaper Gala even names “Theo, wir fahr’n nach Lodz” as the one song that has made Vicky Leandros immortal.
In 1975 she released another huge hit called “Ich Liebe Das Leben” which is still one of the biggest and most popular Schlager songs in Germany and has been covered by a variety of stars since then.
A third Eurovision attempt
Unlike many other Eurovision winners who got famous through the competition, Vicky always remained a positive opinion about the contest, frequently talked about her Eurovision experience in interviews and even attempted to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest for a third time, many years after her first two performances.
In 2006, she entered the German national final 50 Jahre Grand Prix and was one of the three finalists alongside Texas Lightning and Thomas Anders. In the first half of the show, the three acts had to cover a Eurovision winning song and Vicky pulled the ultimate legend move and just performed her own song “Après toi.
However, the song “Don’t Break My Heart” couldn’t convince the German televoters and Vicky ended up in third place of the national final, and couldn’t fulfill her dream to represent Germany in her home nation Greece.
Private life and Political engagement
Vicky’s first marriage with Ivan Zissiadis ended in 1984 after four years. Without Vicky’s knowledge, Zissiadis took their son Leandrakis, who was only 4 years old at the time, to Greece and after seven weeks in court, Vicky finally got sole custody of her son. She later revealed how hard this period was for her!
The darkest time was the kidnapping of my son Leo by his Greek father. That was a real abduction! There have been some very scary moments. I really had to fight for my child.
In 1986, Vicky married the baron Enno von Ruffin and had two daughters with him. The marriage ended in 2005.
Following in her father’s footsteps, Vicky combined both musical career and political engagement. As early as 2001, she was under discussion as Senator for Culture in Hamburg. From 2006 to 2008 she was Deputy Mayor and Councilor for Culture in Piraeus, a Greek port municipality near Athens. Earlier in 2006, she was already offered to work as a culture senator in the shadow cabinet of Friedbert Pfluger, the CDU’s top candidate for the Berlin House of Representatives elections in 2006. However, she refused that offer, as she wanted to continue her tour.
The 70th birthday of Schlager star Vicky Leandros has caused a great medial reaction and a big amount of journalists, especially in Germany, have been writing about the artist’s impressive life and career. Vicky herself has made a comment to the German Press Agency (dpa):
Birthdays have never been especially important to me. The 70th birthday however is indeed a milestone and a reason to think about things – in case one hasn’t done that before already
Interestingly, it is uncertain if Vicky actually celebrated her 70th birthday in reality or if she only did so for the media. Sources vary in her birth year, while August 23rd 1952 is most frequently mentioned as her date of birth, there are also hints that she may have been born in 1948 or 1949. During the Eurovision Song Contest 1967, she claimed to be 17 years old, which does not add up with the birth year of 1952. It is possible that she was in fact younger during her first Eurovision appearance and claimed to be older, to sell a song about love better. Other people also speculate, that she is hiding her real age from the public!
70 years or not, we are more than impressed by the resume and oeuvre of Vicky Leandros! We hope that she has celebrated a very happy birthday and hope to see more of one of the biggest Eurovision legends of all time!