He has been a vituperative Richard III and a bloodcurdling Hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as a Russian Pope, Paul Gauguin and a Mexican rebel. "I never get the girl," Anthony Quinn once joked of his epic roles. "I wind up with a country instead." But of all his characters, his favorite remains the lusty peasant Zorba the Greek. "I am Zorba," says Tony, whose zest for ouzo and bouzouki dancing in the Oscar-winning 1965 film made him seem as Greek as baklava.

Actually he's Irish and Mexican, but Quinn will always be Zorba, and vice versa. Now, at 68, he is playing the Greek again, this time onstage in a musical version of the role Herschel Bernardi performed on Broadway in 1968. "Today I'm a better Zorba," Quinn says. "Before, I had to paint my hair white. Now I'm just right."

The new Zorba has played to full houses in Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago, and will open in Denver on May 2. By the fall of 1984 it will have toured five more cities, and then Quinn will decide whether to take the show to Broadway. He scoffs at talk that he's wary of Big Apple critics: "Who's afraid of New York? Not me! I just don't think it's the be-all and end-all."

The road suits him fine. One thing he has taken on tour with him is his art, transporting paints, sculpture tools and other gear in crates. He spends mornings in his hotel suite in his smock, a paint-splotched jogging suit. In any one day he works on many pieces—a self-portrait, an oil of a Zorba cast member, a wood sculpture of a female torso. As a child, he mailed crayon portraits of actors to his subjects (Douglas Fairbanks sent back a check for $10). But Quinn went public as an artist only last December, with a Honolulu show of oil paintings and wood and marble sculptures done over several years. Many of the sculptures were abstract female forms and faces from a series called Anthony Quinn's Women. "There were 65 pieces, but that does not represent all the women I've experienced," he boasts, chuckling. The works sold out for $2 million. The sculptures brought as much as $35,000; the oils, which are Cubist and Post-Impressionist, went for up to $30,000. But Quinn professes disinterest in price. "Without art, there is no reason for living," he says. "I'd just be an animal if I didn't create some form of life." Does he prefer art to acting? "Terrible question," he snaps. "That's like asking which child would you push off a cliff."

Multiple pursuits run in Quinn's family. When he was born, his father, Frank, was fighting alongside Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution. His mother, Manuela, then 16, carried Tony to El Paso. Eventually the Quinns became migrant workers in California. When Tony was 10, his dad died in a car accident. After quitting school in the 10th grade, Quinn worked as a taxi driver, butcher, ranch foreman and pro boxer. In 1936 he landed a job as a $3.50-a-day movie extra and soon found himself playing a Cheyenne Indian in Cecil B. De Mille's The Plainsman. The next year he got a sweetheart role—as C.B.'s son-in-law—when he wed his boss's adopted daughter, Katherine.

They had five children (Christopher, who drowned in W.C. Fields' swimming pool at 3; Christina, now 41, a businesswoman; Kathleen, 40, a housewife; Duncan, 37, and Valentina, 30, both aspiring actors). But Tony was often away filming, and in 1961, while making Barabbas in Rome, he fell in love with a Venetian-born wardrobe mistress named lolanda Addolori. He and Katherine did not divorce until 1965, by which time lolanda had borne Quinn two sons, Francesco and Daniele. When they wed in 1966, she was pregnant with their third child, Lorenzó.

Francesco, now 20, studies drama in New York. Daniele and Lorenzó, 19 and 16, live with lolanda-at the villa near Rome that Quinn calls home. Though he also spends much time at his Manhattan apartment, Tony insists his marriage is strong. "Italian women are quite a revelation," he says. "They are so natural and uncomplicated."

Which his life isn't. Valentina is in a drug detoxification program. Quinn doesn't discuss her problem, but a friend confides, "It's heartbreaking. Tony doesn't know what to do." Far from the brawler he once was, Quinn now maintains a healthy routine: He jogs and swims, and swears he "hardly ever drinks. I saw what it did to so many good people, like Jack Barrymore."

He gripes that art commitments are slowing work on Suddenly Sunset, the second volume of his autobiography. Zorba doesn't help either. But the pay (reportedly $25,000 a week) is good; so are the standing ovations. "I think they are not necessarily for a particular performance," says Quinn, "but because people feel that this poor son of a bitch has done his best for 50 years. I'm pleased: It means my life has not been a total failure."