Former Greek President Costis Stephanopoulos dies at age 90

Constantine Stephanopoulos, a former president of Greece, has died.

Stephanopoulos, 90, had entered a hospital Thursday with pneumonia and his condition deteriorated rapidly. His doctors had released a statement Saturday saying he was suffering from multiple organ failure and was not responding to treatment.

Known widely by his first name diminutive Costis, Stephanopoulos was president from 1995 to 2005, serving the two full terms allowed by the Constitution.

Although the office is largely ceremonial, Stephanopoulos won wide popularity with his modesty and lack of bombast. Although a conservative, he got along very well with politicians across the spectrum, especially moderate socialist Costas Simitis, who was prime minister from 1996 to 2004.-AP

His widespread acceptance was reflected in the reaction from political leaders after his death.

“A moral man with a lofty vision,” said leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a conservative, called Stephanopoulos “a model of selfless, dignified and consistent service for the public good.”

Stephanopoulos was not always considered a moderate. For much of his political career, he was seen as a conservative hardliner. In the 1970s, he caused an uproar when he denied that the smog regularly enveloping Athens was dangerous.

“Bring me a dead body to convince me,” he said at the time. Years later, he said he regretted that statement.

Stephanopoulos was aware of the limits of the largely ceremonial presidency. On one occasion, he told a Socialist minister who had arrived early for an official function and was reluctant to join him at his office, “Are you one of those who believe the President has work to do? I sit around most of the time.”

But he used the office’s pulpit effectively, as when he lectured, in measured tones, visiting U.S. President Bill Clinton, in 1999, about his country’s meddling in Greece’s internal affairs, culminating with support for the 1967-74 military dictatorship. Clinton responded by apologizing for past U.S. policy failures.

Stephanopoulos, the son of a lawyer and politician, was born in the western city of Patras on Aug. 15, 1926. In his youth, he was involved in sports, notably swimming and water polo, before starting a career as a lawyer. He was first elected to Parliament in 1961, and became deputy trade minister in the civilian government that followed the fall of the military junta, in July 1974. He held various posts in New Democracy governments as the interior, social services and civil service minister.

Following New Democracy’s loss in the 1981 election, he was a minor candidate for the party’s leadership. In 1984, he sought the leadership again, but was a runner-up to Constantine Mitsotakis, the father of the current conservative leader. The following year, he split from New Democracy, forming the Democratic Renewal Party, under whose banner he was elected to Parliament in 1985 and 1989. But the party failed to gain a significant following and he disbanded it in 1994.