You may not recognize George Gaynes‘ name, but you definitely know his face.
The actor, who died Monday at age 98, appeared in hundreds of TV comedies and dramas, 35 films, and numerous plays, musical comedies, and operas in the U.S. and Europe, Variety reported.
But George Gaynes is most famous for three roles: Punky Brewster’s foster dad, Henry Warnimont, the amorous and oblivious soap opera star in Tootsie, and the absent-minded Commandant Eric Lassard in the Police Academy movies.
Following the announcement of his death in North Bend, Washington, by his daughter, former co-star Soleil Moon Frye, expressed her sadness and shared fond memories on Twitter and Instagram about the time she spent with her on-screen adoptive father, Entertainment Tonight reported.
“When I reflect on some of the most joyous moments in my life, they were shared with this incredible man. Love to your family … The universe just gained a gigantic star. You will be in my heart and soul always and forever. Your little Punky. RIP George Gaynes.”
George Gaynes was born George Jongejans in Helsinki, Finland. His mother was Russian and his father was Dutch. His uncle played a Nazi in Casablanca.
Gaynes was raised in France, England, and Switzerland. During World War II, he was a prisoner of the Spanish for three months, and after he was released, served with the Royal Dutch Navy. After the war, George got work with the New York City opera — he had a lovely baritone voice — but decided he’d rather be an actor and he changed his last name to Gaynes.
Though George didn’t have any trouble finding working, his breakout didn’t come until the 1980s. The list of his appearances over the years on TV and film are overwhelming: The Defenders, Mission: Impossible, Bonanza, Mannix, Hogan’s Heroes, The Six Million Dollar Man, Hawaii Five-0, Chicago Hope, General Hospital, Search for Tomorrow, and The Way We Were, Altered States, and Wag the Dog.
In addition, from 1987 to 1991, he co-starred with his wife on the critically acclaimed sitcom The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, and was a series regular on the first season of a CBS comedy called Hearts Afire, which starred John Ritter and Markie Post.
But many people will recognize George Gaynes for three roles in particular. After his 1982 role in Tootsie, in which his character tirelessly pursues Dustin Hoffman (unaware he’s a man dressed in drag), he took the role of Lassard in Police Academy in 1984. George ultimately starred in all seven movies. His role on Punky Brewster began shortly after.
The relationship between the little girl and the grumpy Henry Warnimont became the heart of the show, in which George’s character takes in Punky and her dog, Brandon, after she’s abandoned in the supermarket by her mother. The show ended in 1988.
Gaynes once spoke about the character in an interview, according to Entertainment Weekly.
“To build a character like Henry Warnimont required a few weeks and months of work. It turned out he was basically a very kind and generous man, which he covered up with his surface gruffness and surface bluster. And the kind of hopeless quality that everything goes wrong, kind of thing. That was built up over the weeks and months, and we had a good time doing it. I brought what I could of myself to this thing, because between Henry Warnimont and I – not a hell of a lot of difference.”
George officially retired in 2003 with the Ashton Kutcher/Brittany Murphy film, Just Married.
Gaynes is survived by his wife, actress Allyn Ann McLerie, their daughter, Iya Gaynes Falcone Brown, a granddaughter and two great-granddaughters. A son, Matthew, died in 1989 in a car crash in India. He was traveling to Nepal to film a kayaking special for ESPN, People reported.
[Photo via YouTube]