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. Constantine’s agent confirmed the news of his death to Variety. He passed away of natural causes.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” scored a domestic gross of $241 million in 2002; No. 2 on the list is “What Women Want” with $183 million. The film drew a SAG Awards nomination for outstanding performance by the cast of a theatrical motion picture.
As Roger Ebert recounted, Constantine’s Gus “specializes in finding the Greek root for any word (even ‘kimono’), and delivers a toast in which he explains that ‘Miller’ goes back to the Greek word for apple, and ‘Portokalos’ is based on the Greek word for oranges, and so, he concludes triumphantly, ‘In the end, we’re all fruits.’ ”
Everyone’s favourite line from Gus Portokalos:
“Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek.”
Constantine was born Gus Efstratiou in Reading, Pennsylvania, the son of Andromache Efstratiou (née Fotiadou) and Theoharis Ioannides, both immigrants from Greece.
He began his career on the New York stage and in the mid-1950s as an understudy to Paul Muni in ‘Inherit the Wind’. While in the cast, he met and married actress Julianna McCarthy on October 5, 1953; they had two children, Thea Eileen and Brendan Neil. The marriage ended in divorce in 1969, the same year that Constantine began his role in ‘Room 222’.
He studied acting with such prominent mentors as Howard Da Silva. He was playing character roles on and off-Broadway in his mid-twenties, supplementing his income as a night watchman and shooting-gallery barker. In 1959, he appeared in his first film, ‘The Last Mile’ (1959). In 1964 and 1965, Constantine appeared on ‘Perry Mason’, both times as the murderer. He played the role of wannabe private eye Dillard in ‘The Case of the Blonde Bonanza’, then he played Pappy Ryan in ‘The Case of the Runaway Racer’.
In 1967, he appeared in the first part of ‘The Judgment’, the two-episode conclusion of The Fugitive, starring David Janssen. Constantine played a long-suffering anti-organized-crime agent in Walt Disney’s caper film ‘The North Avenue Irregulars’ (1979), where he appeared alongside Edward Herrmann and Cloris Leachman.
In 2002, he enjoyed an unexpected comeback as the Windex-toting Gus Portokalos in the hit movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a role he reprised on the short-lived television series My Big Fat Greek Life, and a sequel film with the original cast, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which was released on March 25, 2016.
Rest in Peace Michael.