Stefanos Miltsakakis, Muscleman in 5 Van Damme Films, Dies at 59

Maximum Risk Still Stefanos Miltsakakis - Photofest - H 2019
Courtesy of Photofest

A native of Greece and an MMA fighter, he made his film debut in 'Weekend at Bernie's' and his last movie appearance in Gerard Butler's 'Den of Thieves.'

Stefanos Miltsakakis, the powerful martial arts muscleman who squared off against Jean-Claude Van Damme in Maximum Risk, The Quest and three other action films, has died. He was 59.

Miltsakakis died in his sleep on Jan. 10 at his home in Santa Monica, his longtime personal manager, Stephen Brown, told The Hollywood Reporter. "He was a mentor to so many of us who were blessed to have known him," Brown said.

As the Russian thug Red Face in Maximum Risk (1996), the hulking Miltsakakis fights Van Damme in a blazing building, in a sauna (where somehow their towels stay on) and finally in an elevator, where the quick-thinking hero stabs him in his foot, then his chest.

The film was directed by Hong Kong legend Ringo Lam, with the impressive action sequences choreographed by stunt icon Charlie Picerni.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 220-pound actor first met the "Muscles From Brussels" onscreen in the post-apocalyptic thriller Cyborg (1989), in which he runs through swamp reeds to launch a surprise attack on Van Damme.

In The Quest (1996), Van Damme's directorial debut, he participates in a winner-takes-all martial arts tournament against a tough Mongolian fighter as buccaneer Roger Moore looks on. The premise was a rehash of Van Damme's more successful Bloodsport (1988).

Miltsakakis and Van Damme also appeared together in Lionheart (1990) and Derailed (2002).

With a career heavy on fierce fight scenes, Miltsakakis' film debut surprisingly came in a comedy. In Ted Kotcheff's Weekend at Bernie's (1989), he played the blase bodybuilder, Klaus, who manipulates the neck of the dead man during the house party.

Martial arts fans also know Miltsakakis as the villainous escaped prisoner Schrek in Bloodsport 4: The Dark Kumite (1999). His climatic fight scene with Daniel Bernhardt (The Matrix Reloaded) ends with a ballpoint pen jabbed into his ear and kicked into his brain.

"When we had finished filming our fight scene, both of us were injured," Bernhardt recalled in 2010. "We shot that in one day over the course of 15 hours. I hurt his shoulder, and he injured my knee. Even though everything is choreographed, if you saw how we were throwing each other around, it's a wonder we survived. At one point, he was on top of me punching, and a couple shots got through."

Born in Provatonas, Greece, Miltsakakis qualified for his country's 1984 Olympic wrestling team but suffered a knee injury and was replaced. He later trained with Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Rickson Gracie and fought twice in the no-holds-barred World Vale Tudo Championships.

"He looked great [with] an unbelievably rough, handsome, leonine face, massive hands and the steely blue eyes of a German U-boat commander," is how Sam Sheridan described Miltsakakis in his 2006 memoir, A Fighter's Heart. (The two worked together on the 2007 film Bobby Z, starring Paul Walker and Laurence Fishburne.)

In 1992, Miltsakakis appeared in Double Trouble, played Frankenstein's monster in Waxwork II: Lost in Time and worked alongside fellow martial arts icon Jet Li in The Master.

His powerful presence also was on display in Best of the Best II (1993), Daredevil (2003) and as hitman Eldon Sistrunk on CBS' Nash Bridges.

Miltsakakis' final onscreen role came as a bouncer in the Gerard Butler action film Den of Thieves (2018).

"I remember fighting as soon as I started to walk," he said in a 2011 interview. "I mean, it was just the circumstances. I grew up in a place [where] children would just fight with each other and wrestle all day long. It was a different time, a different era, a different place."

Survivors include his sister Kalliope, nephew Lourdanis and niece Marianthi. He will be buried in Greece beside his father, Brown said.