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Michael Constantine, the Emmy-winning actor from the 1970s sitcom Room 222 who later portrayed the Windex-spritzing father of Nia Vardalos’ character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, has died. He was 94.
Constantine died Aug. 31 in his home in his native Reading, Pennsylvania, his family announced. He had been ill for some time, they said.
The son of Greek immigrants, Constantine is warmly remembered for his turn as Gus Portokalos, the husband of Lainie Kazan’s Maria Portokalos, in the unlikely box office smash My Big Fat Greek Wedding and its 2016 sequel. The first installment, made for $5 million and released in 2002, grossed nearly $370 million worldwide.
“I had to audition for the part,” he recalled in a 2016 interview. “Before that, I asked to read the script, because I was very leery. I didn’t know Nia then [she also penned the screenplay], and I was anxious about someone writing some Greek thing. Was it going to be baloney or was it going to be something by somebody who really knows Greeks? So I read the script and I said, ‘Yes, this person obviously knows Greeks.'”
The know-it-all Gus was famous for thinking that Windex would cure just about any ailment. “I’m actually sick of Windex,” he said. “There must have been hundreds of bottles sent to me, and then there were all those people who asked me to autograph their Windex bottles.”
He also reprised the role for the short-lived 2003 CBS sitcom My Big Fat Greek Life.
On Wednesday, Vardalos paid tribute to the man who played her boisterous Greek father on Twitter, writing: “Michael Constantine, the dad to our cast-family, a gift to the written word, and always a friend. Acting with him came with a rush of love and fun. I will treasure this man who brought Gus to life. He gave us so much laughter and deserves a rest now. We love you Michael.”
Michael Constantine, the dad to our cast-family, a gift to the written word, and always a friend. Acting with him came with a rush of love and fun. I will treasure this man who brought Gus to life. He gave us so much laughter and deserves a rest now. We love you Michael. 🇬🇷 pic.twitter.com/PV0sIBtaUX
— Nia Vardalos (@NiaVardalos) September 9, 2021
Rita Wilson, who produced My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the sequel film and served as an executive producer on My Big Fat Greek Life, also paid tribute to Constantine on Twitter, posting, alongside a photo of him with a poster for the second film, “My friend, Michael Constantine, our sweet patriarch of the Portokalos family, has gone to heaven. I’m so thankful for the love he brought to his Windex wielding, loving father in both our My Big Fat Greek Wedding Movies and the series My Big Fat Greek Life.”
My friend, Michael Constantine, our sweet patriarch of the Portokalos family, has gone to heaven. I’m so thankful for the love he brought to his Windex wielding, loving father in both our My Big Fat Greek Wedding Movies and the series My Big Fat Greek Life. pic.twitter.com/j272u5XVRm
— Rita Wilson (@RitaWilson) September 9, 2021
For playing Seymour Kaufman, the jaded principal at L.A.’s fictional Walt Whitman High, on ABC’s Room 222, Constantine won the Emmy for best supporting actor in a comedy in 1970 and was nominated the following year as well.
The series, created by the soon-to-be legendary Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Simpsons co-creator James L. Brooks, was ahead of its time, featuring an integrated cast that tackled serious contemporary issues during its five-season (1969-74) run.
Constantine also portrayed Big John, a pool-playing associate of Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), in Robert Rossen’s atmospheric The Hustler (1961); was among those taking a whirlwind tour of Europe in If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969); and played an intelligence officer from behind the Iron Curtain in Don’t Drink the Water (1969), a film version of Woody Allen’s Broadway hit.
On the stage, Constantine served as Paul Muni’s understudy in the original 1955-57 production of Inherit the Wind on Broadway and then appeared with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker, playing the head of the institute for the blind.
He was born Gus Efstration on May 22, 1927, the son of an iron worker. After Reading High School and a stint as the manager of the dairy department at his local grocery store, he didn’t really know what he wanted to do for a living. A chance encounter with a friend who had left for New York to become an actress convinced him to follow her lead.
Constantine eventually studied acting with Howard Da Silva (Broadway’s Oklahoma!) and spent nearly almost two years with the Inherit the Wind company. He then played a character based on attorney Clarence Darrow opposite Dean Stockwell, Roddy McDowall and Da Silva in Compulsion, a dramatization of the Leopold and Loeb murder trial.
In The Miracle Worker, he portrayed Anagnos, the man who put Annie Sullivan (Bancroft) with the Keller family.
Constantine made his big-screen debut alongside Mickey Rooney in the Death Row-set The Last Mile (1959), directed by Howard W. Koch. He soon proved adept at TV guest-starring roles in the 1960s, appearing on The Defenders, Naked City, Dr. Kildare, The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, Ironside and The Flying Nun.
Constantine had a regular role as one of the apartment-building residents, a photographer, on the 1966-67 NBC sitcom Hey, Landlord, created by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson, and he starred as a night court judge on the 1976-77 NBC comedy Sirota’s Court (that show also featured Fred Willard and Ted Ross).
On NBC’s Remington Steele, Constantine showed up on a few episodes as eager businessman George Edward Mulch.
His film résumé also included Beau Geste (1966), Steve McQueen’s The Reivers (1969), The North Avenue Irregulars (1979), Prancer (1989), My Life (1993) and The Juror (1996).
Constantine was married and divorced twice. Survivors include his sisters, Patricia and Chris.
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