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John Aniston, the charming Greece-born actor who for more than three decades portrayed the ruthless Victor Kiriakis on the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives, has died. He was 89.
The father of actress Jennifer Aniston died Friday, his daughter announced.
“Sweet papa … John Anthony Aniston,” the Friends megastar wrote in a tribute post on Instagram Monday, “You were one of the most beautiful humans I ever knew. I am so grateful that you went soaring into the heavens in peace — and without pain. And on 11/11 no less! You always had perfect timing. That number will forever hold an even greater meaning for me now.”
She ended the post: “I’ll love you till the end of time.”
Aniston had played a different character, a doctor, on Days of Our Lives in 1969-70, then worked on two other daytime serials, CBS’ Love of Life and CBS/NBC’s Search for Tomorrow, before returning to Days in July 1985. He received a Daytime Emmy nomination for his efforts in 2017.
“Soap operas have just the right amount of recognition. You get just enough to satisfy your ego but not enough to disrupt your life,” he said in a 2018 interview with Adrienne Faillace for the Television Academy Foundation website The Interviews. “Whereas some people, my daughter being one of them, can’t go anywhere.”
The dashing Aniston also appeared twice on Kojak — that show’s star, the late Telly Savalas, was Jennifer’s godfather — and also showed up on episodes of Combat!, I Spy, The Virginian, That Girl, Airwolf, Star Trek: Voyager, The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, Cold Case and Mad Men.
In the early 1970s, Aniston made it through three auditions to play newscaster Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but the part eventually went to Ted Knight.
“The original script described [the character] as the Marcello Mastroianni of Minneapolis,” he said. He was told he didn’t get hired because producers “didn’t want the possibility of a romance between Baxter and Mary.” When he saw the show, he realized that Knight was perfect for the part.
One of four children, Yiannis Anastasakis was born on July 24, 1933, in Chania on the Greek island of Crete. His father, Antonios, had gone back and forth between the U.S. and Greece before leaving his home country for good in 1935, bringing the family to Chester, Pennsylvania, where he opened a restaurant.
Aniston started acting in plays in high school and did two seasons of stock at the Allenberry Playhouse while attending Penn State University. After getting his bachelor’s degree in arts and letters, he served in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence officer based in Panama.
He moved to New York and in 1959 got a guest spot on the CBS cop show Brenner, starring Edward Binns, and began a 14-month stint playing a Native American, Chief Brown Bear, in the comic off-Broadway musical Little Mary Sunshine, starring Eileen Brennan.
Aniston tried for a part on Days of Our Lives and lost out to Bill Hayes, but he accepted an offer to play Eric Richards, a prison doctor.
After being thwarted in a bid to go to medical school in Greece, he returned to acting, spending three years as the Spaniard Edouard “Eddie” Aleata on Love of Life — Christopher Reeve played one of his stepsons — and six as the philandering Martin Tourneur on Search for Tomorrow. His daughter, then just a kid, appeared on that soap as an extra.
“I told her you don’t want to be in show business, show business stinks,” he recalled. “I tell everybody who wants to be an actor, ‘Don’t be an actor, be something else.’ Because if my telling them to stay out of show business is going to keep them out, they shouldn’t be in it in the first place.
“But I knew right from the beginning when Jennifer started auditioning for things [she would be a success], because she always got called back.”
Aniston said portraying the Greek crime boss Victor in the town of Salem appealed to him because “you could punish your enemies and reward your friends. What’s not to like?” His character was married five times, spent a year and a half in a coma and once was killed off, only to be found alive on the island of Melaswen (that’s new Salem spelled backward).
Friends fans know full well that in a second-season storyline, Joey Tribbiani, played by Jennifer’s castmate Matt LeBlanc, gets a job on Days of Our Lives, but his neurosurgeon character, Dr. Drake Ramoray, is killed off after falling down an elevator shaft.
Aniston was married to late actress Nancy Dow (Jennifer’s mother) from 1965 until their 1981 divorce and to actress Sherry Rooney, whom he met on Love of Life, since June 1984. In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by his son, Alexander.
Acting, Aniston pointed out in his TV Academy Foundation interview, “beats working for a living. Especially when you’re doing theater, you can feel the beast. … When you’re in a play and you really control the audience, it’s a lot of fun.”
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