The actor’s family announced the news to the local outlet of his Reading, Penn. hometown, the Reading Eagle. In the announcement, the family stated that he died peacefully of natural causes surrounded by close family, including his sisters. He had been battling an undisclosed illness for several years, his brother-in-law, Michael Gordon, disclosed to the outlet.
Constantine, whose birth name was Gus Efstration, was born May 22, 1927. He began his career on stage in New York in the 1950s before pivoting over to television, ultimately landing the role that put him on the map as principal Seymour Kaufman at the fictional Los Angeles Walt Whitman High On ABC’s “Room 222.” The role earned Constantine an Emmy award for best supporting actor in a comedy in 1970 before the show concluded its five-season run in 1974.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that Constantine’s most recent claim to popularity was as Gus Portokalos in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Born to Greek immigrants himself, the role of an eccentric Greek family man was not a stretch for the accomplished character actor. The actor said in a 2016 interview that he was worried the script would be inauthentic to the actual Greek-American experience.
Michael Constantine’s family announced that he has died at age 94. (Bobby Bank/WireImage)
“I had to audition for the part,” he recalled at the time. “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.'”
He also noted that fans took his character’s trait of thinking the household cleaner Windex could solve any problem. However, he revealed he was “sick of Windex” after fans sent him hundreds of bottles after the film’s premiere in 2002. He was also asked to sign many bottles as well.
Still, that didn’t stop him from reprising the role in the short-lived 2003 sitcom “My Big Fat Greek Life” or the 2016 film sequel “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.”
On Wednesday, actress and co-writer of the franchise, Nia Vardalos, paid tribute to Constantine on Twitter.
“Michael Constantine, the dad to our cast-family, a gift to the written word, and always a friend,” she wrote. “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.”
THR also notes that, in addition to his two most popular roles, Constantine studied acting with Hoard Da Silva and spent nearly two years in the “Inherit the Wind” company. After a few more roles on stage, he made his big-screen debut alongside Mickey Rooney in “The Last Mile” and went on to appear in, “The Defenders,” “Naked City,” “Dr. Kildare,” “The Untouchables,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Perry Mason,” “Ironside” and “The Flying Nun.”