R.I.P. Michael Constantine, star of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ who appeared all over classic television
He played Principal Kaufman in Room 222 and guest starred in Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, Hogan’s Heroes and The Dick Van Dyke Show – just to name a few.
Michael Constantine will be known to many as Gus Portokalos, the eccentric father in the 2002 film My Big Fat Greek Wedding who could find the Greek root of any word and steadfastly believed Windex could cure any ailment.
While his role in one of the highest grossing comedies of all time was certainly memorable, it came at the tail end of a long and varied career.
Michael Constantine, born Constantine Joanides in Reading, Pennsylvania, began his career in show business performing on Broadway in the 1950s. He was part of the original 1959 cast of The Miracle Worker on stage and co-starred with Mickey Rooney in the dramatic prison film The Last Mile that same year. Constantine then played Big John in the Paul Newman poolhall classic The Hustler before appearing all over 1960s television.
Constantine played a doctor in one episode of Dr. Kildare and a sheriff in the memorable Twilight Zone episode “I am the Night – Color Me Black” alongside Paul Fix, George Lindsay and Ivan Dixon.
His TV credits only proliferated from there, appearing in Hogan’s Heroes, The Dick Van Dyke Show, My Favorite Martian, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible, The Invaders and two episodes of Perry Mason.
In 1968, Constantine played Leech in the psychedelic hippie comedy Skidoo. The film boasted an all-star cast, including Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, and Groucho Marx.
The 1970s saw Constantine reteaming with Rod Serling in an episode of Night Gallery, guest-starring in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Kojack, and playing his most famous role up to that point — Principal Seymour Kaufman in the poignant high-school series Room 222. Constantine won an Emmy for his performance as Kaufman in 1970 and was nominated again the following year.
Constantine got his own show in 1976 called Sirota's Court. He played Judge Matthew Sirota, a night court judge dealing with the zany antics of defendants and the equally funny passion of prosecutor H.R. "Bud" Nugent, played by Fred Willard. Though canceled after just 13 episodes, Night Court would later prove just few years later that the premise was TV gold.
Constantine continued his constant TV work in the 1980s, appearing in The Love Boat, Mama's Family, Remington Steele and MacGyver, among many others.
Constantine played Gus again for the long-awaited sequel My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 in 2016. The patriarch had an even more important role this time around as the one getting married after it’s discovered he and his wife never officially tied the knot. It was Constantine's final role.
Whether as a guest star in some of the best shows of the 1960s, in his Emmy-winning part of Principal Kaufman or as the lovable Gus Portokalos, Michael Constantine will be fondly remembered for his many onscreen contributions. He was 94.