Michael Constantine, the Emmy-winning star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Room 222,” died on Wednesday at his Reading, Pennsylvania home. He was 94 years old at the time.
Julia Buchwald, the veteran character actor’s agent, confirmed his death from natural causes. According to the Reading Eagle, Constantine had been ill for several years, but his official cause of death had not been revealed.
Born Constantine Ioannides — he also went by Gus Efstration for a time — in Reading on May 22, 1927, he is best known for playing Greek-American Kostas “Gus” Portokalos, the Windex-obsessed papa in the 2002 indie hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” alongside Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Andrea Martin, and Lainie Kazan.
According to Deadline, the original film in a franchise that spawned a sequel and a short-lived TV series — on which he reprised his role in 2003 — grossed over $360 million worldwide, making it one of the highest-grossing romantic comedies of all time.
At the time of his death, a third installment was reportedly in the works, set in the family’s homeland of Greece.
Vardalos, his onscreen daughter and screenwriter of the “Wedding” films, took to Twitter to pay her respects: “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.”
Constantine is best known for his Emmy-winning role as Walt Whitman High School principal Seymour Kaufman in the ABC series “Room 222,” which aired from 1969 to 1974 and won him an Emmy in 1970. In 1971, he was nominated for an Emmy for the second time.
In 1955, he began his Broadway career as an understudy to the legendary Paul Muni, who starred in “Inherit the Wind” as the character based on lawyer Clarence Darrow. From 1959 to 1961, he appeared on Broadway in “Compulsion” in 1957 and “The Miracle Worker” with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.
Other notable film appearances include Paul Newman’s “The Hustler” from 1961, a scene-stealing performance as the Gypsy in Stephen King’s “Thinner” from 1996, and an all-star cast in 1976’s “Voyage of the Damn.”