ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Evgenios Spatharis, a Greek master of shadow puppet theater, has died days after sustaining injuries in a fall, a state news agency reported Sunday. He was 85.

Spatharis died Saturday at an Athens hospital, where he was being treated after falling from a staircase Wednesday while he was on his way to a performance. No details have been given about the type of injuries he suffered.

He was well-known throughout Greece for his puppet theater stories revolving around the hunchbacked character “Karagiozi,” who came to represent the virtues and vices of the average Greek. Cunning and rebellious against authority, Karagiozi was often shown as a liar and petty thief who worms his way out of difficult situations.

The stories, deeply satirical, featured a varying cast of characters whose accents and mannerisms poked fun at various people in Greek society.

Authority figures were represented by a Turkish pasha.

Spatharis said recently that, while touring a western Greek island, he was warned not to present a local character or he would be beaten up. “I played the character in the end, and they applauded me,” he told the Tachydromos magazine in an interview published earlier this month.

Shadow theater, now a dying art form in Greece, is thought to be from China or India and arrived in Greece when it was part of the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century until the late 1820s. For decades after Greece won independence in 1829, shadow theater was the only organized form of public entertainment.

Spatharis bemoaned the lack of gifted performers, and called for the Greek state to help preserve the art. He himself set up a shadow puppet museum at his home in a suburb north of Athens.

“Evgenios Spatharis served the shadow-puppet craft with remarkable dedication for decades,” Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said. “All of us who grew up watching the figures of these heroes bid farewell to someone very close to our heart.”

Spatharis was born Jan. 3, 1924, and followed his puppet master father, Sotirios Spatharis, into the craft.

From his first performance in 1942, he worked until the end of his life, most often as a solitary performer manipulating his puppets behind a small semitransparent screen.

He also collaborated with theater and dance companies to expand the art form. He recorded 15 stories starting in the 1960s.

The Greek state planned to pay for his funeral Wednesday.

AP-ES-05-10-09 1618EDT

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