Once Upon a Time: Dan Vadis

Constantine Daniel Vafiadis was a Greek born in Shanghai. He could trace his lineage back to the island of Chios in the Aegean Sea. This island boasts an 11th-century monastery and was the site of the Chios massacre in which thousands of Greeks were killed or enslaved by the Ottoman Empire during the Greek War of Independence in 1822.

As Dan Vadis, he served in the U.S. Navy and became an avid bodybuilder. He joined Mae West’s Las Vegas show in which she surrounded herself with muscle men like Dan and Mickey Hargitay. Dan wasted no time in Hollywood but instead started in films in Italy appearing in Maciste, il gladiatore più forte del mondo (Colossus of the Arena, 1962) that starred fellow American bodybuilder Mark Forest. A year later, he managed to find his way into Die Flußpiraten vom Mississippi (The Pirates of the Mississippi), a Eurowestern that was a co-production between West Germany, France and Italy.

Cool photo from the Miami Herald in 1965. Dan rolls with British actress Rosemary Dexter on his ample shoulders. Courtesy Brian’s Drive-In Theater.

Dan then featured in starring roles playing Hercules most notably in Il trionfo di Ercole (aka The Triumph of Hercules, aka Hercules vs. the Giant Warriors, 1964). The story of this film is relatively sound but the execution is poor. Goofy, even. A prince kills his father to assume the throne. He’s given a magic dagger that – when unsheathed – produces a herd of golden “giant” strongmen that will do his bidding. When he tries to marry his sister off to a confederate, Hercules steps in to save the Princess Ate. Features a bit of a clever ending. Available for viewing here.

This film was directed by an Italian prolific in all genres of Italian cinema of the time. Alberto De Martino not only helmed sword-and-sandal films but also spaghetti westerns (Django Shoots First, 1966), poliziotteschi movies (Crime Boss, 1972), giallo thrillers (The Killer is on the Phone, 1972) and Eurospy (O.K. Connery, 1967). The highlight of The Triumph of Hercules is the presence of a gorgeous 20-year-old Marilù Tolo. Speaking of poliziotteschi, Miss Tolo played a featured role in the excellent Confessions of a Police Captain (1971).

Unlike other Americans who started in Hollywood before entering ExPat Cinema abroad, Dan parlayed his success in Italy into roles in American productions. First up was The Scalphunters (1968), produced and starring Burt Lancaster and featuring Telly Savalas and then Dan entered the Clint Eastwood Stock Company. The quintessential American ex-pat actor, Clint cast Dan in 5 films through the 1970s including as “Black Widow” in the bare-knuckle double feature Every Which Way But Loose (1978) and Any Which Way You Can (1980). Vadis would return to Italy for his final film role in I sette magnifici gladiatori (1983), a Herculean remake of The Seven Samurai starring Lou Ferrigno and Sybil Danning.

Dan in The Gauntlet (1977)

Dan Vadis married minor actress Sharon Jessop or Jessup and they had a son named Nick who today is a DJ who goes by “Nick V”. The Vadis family settled in Lancaster, California, a town in the Mojave Desert 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. On June 11, 1987, Dan Vadis died in his car parked in the desert. His death was ruled an accidental overdose “with acute ethanol and heroin-morphine intoxication”. A sad end for the mighty Greek.



  1. Gary: I grew up watching these “sandals and togas” pictures along with my brothers at a neighbourhood theatre which screened second-run movies. We loved watching Steve Reeves, and Dan Vadis in these types of films. We particularly liked the fact that a lot of the Italian/European actors were dubbed, as they didn’t speak English, and sometimes the film was slightly out-of-sync, which caused a lot of laughter from a predominantly younger audience. Good times! And I miss going to a neighbourhood theatre and being able to watch these kinds of movies.

    • You know, I have never really watched these movies. I have long appreciated them for what they are but I’ll admit I have never watched that many. They are a new thing for me.

      And I know what you mean about the neighbourhood theatre. It’s a shame that it ain’t what it used to be.

  2. If you can, you should watch a few especially ones with Steve Reeves. I’ll admit that they’re not very well acted, but I get a kick out of watching them. It’s the same sort of ‘fun’ I experience when I watch the movie “Jason and the Argonauts.” That movie is one of my favourites; I own a copy of it. Of course, more money was spent on that movie and much better actors, a lot of them British, were cast in roles, and of course we can’t forget the special effects done by the great Ray Harryhausen. But how much better was Todd Armstrong (in the role of Jason) than Steve Reeves as say Hercules? I’d say that Todd just edged Steve out as being a little less “wooden” in the role of Jason.:)

    Going to see these movies on a Saturday afternoon at a local theatre as a kid was great. And sometimes catching them on the Silver Screens channel is always fun.

    • Yes, I enjoyed “Jason” and got a kick out of the similar-but-not-really Clash of the Titans. These goofy movies really say “Saturday afternoon at the bijou in the old days” to me.

  3. Yes, Clash of the Titans with the good-looking, but not very good actor, Harry Hamlin. I agree, that movie was also fun, and I saw it a few times when it was released, in the summer of 1981. What’s not to like with a movie that has Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith, Ursula Andress and that crazy mechanical owl. I think that Burgess and the Owl stole the picture from Harry:)

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