George Gaynes, Star of 'Police Academy' and 'Punky Brewster,' Dies at 98

Courtesy of Photofest
George Gaynes in 'Punky Brewster'

The actor is known for his memorable roles in the film series and on the '80s sitcom, as well as in 'Tootsie.'

George Gaynes died on Monday at his daughter’s home in North Bend, Wash, his daughter Iya Gaynes Falcone Brown confirmed to The New York Times. He was 98.

The character actor is best known for playing Commandant Eric Lassard in all seven Police Academy films, as well as the grouchy foster parent Henry Warnimont on the 1980s sitcom Punky Brewster.

Gaynes also starred opposite Dustin Hoffman in the 1982 film Tootsie, which received 10 Academy Award nominations, although only Jessica Lange won for best supporting actress.

Gaynes' other film credits include The Way We Were, Altered States and Wag the Dog. He appeared in hundreds of episodes on television shows, including The Defenders, Mission: Impossible, Bonanza, The Six Million Dollar Man and Hawaii Five-0, as well as the daytime soap opera General Hospital.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Gaynes’ longtime agent Jonathan Howard, vp of talent at Innovative Artists, on Tuesday night. Howard, who met Gaynes in the early ‘80s and worked with him for 30 years, said the pair kept in touch after he retired.

“The last couple times I got in touch with him, even in his 90s, he was always happy to take the call and consider something,” says Howard. “He was really one of the true gentlemen in this business and was working steadily for 50 years or more. A sad, sad loss. But he had a really long, great life.”

Born in Helsinki, Finland, on May 16, 1917, Gaynes got his start on Broadway in the '50s, starring in the original production of the musical Wonderful Town.

He retired in 2003 and lived in Santa Barbara, Calif., before moving to Washington to stay with his daughter’s family. He is survived by his wife, actress Allyn Ann McLerie; a daughter; one granddaughter and two great-granddaughters. His son, Matthew, died in a 1989 car crash.

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