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Michael Constantine, Father in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,’ Dies at 94

Michael Constantine
Michael Constantine Credit: IFC Films

Michael Constantine, who played Gus, the father of Nia Vardalos’ Toula Portokalos in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” by far the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, died on Aug. 31. He was 94. He died of natural causes.

Constantine was born Gus Efstratiou in Reading, Pennsylvania, the son of Andromache (née Fotiadou) and Theocharis Ioannides Efstratiou (a steel worker), both immigrants from Greece

Vardalos paid tribute to her on-screen father on Twitter, writing: “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.”

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” released in 2002, became the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, and grossed $241.4 million in North America, despite never reaching number one at the box office during its release. It was the highest-grossing film with that distinction for 14 years until the animated film Sing grossed $268 million in 2016.

Despite being based on life in the Greek community of Winnipeg, the film was set in Chicago and shot in both Toronto and Chicago. Toronto’s Ryerson University and Greektown neighborhood feature prominently in the film. The home used to depict Gus and Maria Portokalos’s residence (as well as the home bought next door at the end of the film for Toula and Ian) is located on Glenwood Crescent just off O’Connor Drive in the Toronto suburb of East York. The real home representing the Portokalos’ residence actually has most of the external ornamentation that was shown in the film.

Michael Contantine’s career before My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Constantine reprised his role in a short-lived CBS series that also starred Vardalos and Lainie Kazan in 2003, “My Big Fat Greek Life,” and the 2016 film sequel, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” in which the wedding was that of Gus and Kazan’s Maria after a procedural defect in their original nuptials in Greece is uncovered, necessitating another ceremony.

Before the “Big Fat Greek Wedding” phenomenon, Constantine was best known as a television actor who played principal Seymour Kaufman on James L. Brooks’ then-hip-for-TV high school comedy “Room 222,” which ran on ABC from 1969-74 and also starred Lloyd Haynes as teacher Pete Dixon; Denise Nicholas as school counselor Liz McIntyre; and Karen Valentine as student teacher Alice Johnson.

For his work on “Room 222,” Constantine was twice Emmy nominated, in 1970 and 1971, winning the first time.

He recurred as the Sorcerer on “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl” in 1976 — the same year he got his own show, a forerunner of “Night Court” called “Sirota’s Court,” an the NBC comedy in which he starred as Judge Matthew Sirota. It ran for 13 episodes.

Also in 1976 Constantine played one of many German Jews seeking to flee the Nazis in the feature “Voyage of the Damned” (1976), starring Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner and Lee Grant.

He played the father of Kristy McNichol’s character in the noted TV movie “Summer of My German Soldier” (1978) and had a small part in “Roots: The Next Generations” (1979).

He guested on a wide variety of TV series for decades, recurring on “Remington Steele” as an idiosyncratic businessman — and appearing memorably in a 1994 episode of “Law & Order.”

Constantine played the father of Patrick Dempsey’s “Sonny” Wisecarver, a 15-year-old who elopes with a 21-year-old played by Talia Balsam, in the 1987 romantic comedy “In the Mood.”

The actor had two movie gigs in 1996, playing the judge in courtroom thriller “The Juror,” starring Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin, and portraying the man who places a curse on the hit-and-run driver who killed his daughter in “Stephen King’s Thinner.” Then “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” hit in 2002.

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