Michael Constantine, father in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,’ dead at 94
Michael Constantine, the Emmy-winning actor best known for playing the endearingly obstinate, unconditionally loving father of the bride in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” has died.
He died Aug. 31 at his home in Reading, Pennsylvania, at the age of 94, his sister Patricia Gordon confirmed to the Daily News.
“It was a very, very peaceful passing from natural causes. We were all with him. He was holding hands with our sister, Chris Dobbs,” Gordon told The News.
“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,” Nia Vardalos, the screenwriter and star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” tweeted.
She shared in her Twitter tribute a photo showing Constantine playing her on-screen dad Gus Portokalos. Their original 2002 movie together was a huge sleeper hit that remains the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time.
“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,” Vardalos wrote.
Gordon described her brother as “the most fun-loving person you could ever meet.”
“He was extremely witty and loving and generous. He really enjoyed life and made life so much fun for other people,” she said, adding that he was regularly recognized in public but not always quickly placed.
“People would say, ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere? What’s your name?’ and he’d say, ‘Frank Sinatra,’” she recalled with a laugh.
Constantine was born Gus Efstration in 1927 to Greek immigrant parents in Pennsylvania. He got his start in show business studying under Broadway legend Howard da Silva.
One of his favorite roles was stepping in as a last-minute understudy for Tony-winning actor Paul Muni in “Inherit The Wind,” which opened on Broadway in 1955, his sister recalled.
“They put him on when Paul Muni became ill. He took over in a day and a half. It was unbelievable. He loved every minute of it,” Gordon said.
Constantine went on to a string of TV roles and got his big break with the hit comedy-drama “Room 222,” which ran on ABC from 1969 to 1974.
The show about a racially diverse Los Angeles high school eventually aired after “The Brady Bunch” on Friday nights, shooting Constantine to fame as the school’s principal, Seymour Kaufman.
He won his supporting actor Emmy playing Kaufman opposite his critically acclaimed co-stars Pete Dixon and Karen Valentine.
He appeared in multiple films, including the 1993 independent drama “Question of Faith,” starring Anne Archer and Sam Neill.
But it was with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” in 2002 that he originated the role that would define his place in pop culture.
His beloved character famously promoted Windex as a topical treatment for everything “from psoriasis to poison ivy.”
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve autographed a Windex bottle,” he once told the Reading Eagle, his hometown newspaper.
He called the massive success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” a wake-up call for the film industry.
“Hollywood never realized the extent of the ethnic audience,” Constantine told The Eagle in 2016. “Not only Greeks, but Jews, Italians, Armenians; they all come up to me and say, ‘That was just like my family.’”