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George Gaynes, of 'Punky Brewster, 'Police Academy' Fame, Dies at 98

by Reuters /  / Updated 
Full shot of cheering George Gaynes as Lassard, wearing police uniform and hat; other officers in background.Warner Bros. via Getty Images file

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LOS ANGELES — George Gaynes, who portrayed an irritable foster parent on the '80s sitcom "Punky Brewster," the bewildered commandant in seven "Police Academy" films and a soap opera star with a crush on Dorothy Michaels, whom he doesn't know is Dustin Hoffman's character in drag, in the hit feature comedy "Tootsie," died on Monday in North Bend, Wash. He was 98.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Iya Gaynes Falcone Brown, according to the New York Times.

Gaynes, who was not only a character actor but a baritone singer, made hundreds of appearances both on TV comedies and dramas, as well as 35 films (counting both features and and made-for-TV movies) and many plays, musical comedies and even operas in the U.S. and Europe.

 Full shot of cheering George Gaynes as Lassard, wearing police uniform and hat; other officers in background. Warner Bros. via Getty Images file

While Gaynes became immediately recognizable to TV viewers and filmgoers, he never achieved name recognition, let alone stardom.

On "Punky Brewster," Gaynes played building manager Henry Warnimont, who finds an abandoned girl (Soleil Moon Frye) and becomes her foster parent and eventually her adoptive father. The sweet relationship between the two of them was the heart of the show.

The actor got the part after two of his most memorable big-screen performances: in 1982's "Tootsie," and in 1984's first entry in the long-running "Police Academy" franchise. (He appeared in all seven of the movies.)

George Jongejans was born in Helsinki to a Russian mother and Dutch father. Actor Gregory Gaye, who played a Nazi official in "Casablanca," was an uncle.

Young George was raised in France, England and Switzerland. World War II interrupted his burgeoning opera career. He was interned in Spain for three months; after his release, he traveled to the U.K. and enlisted in the Royal Dutch Navy.

After the war he went to New York, where he joined the New York City Opera. But he considered himself more an actor than a singer.

He changed his last name to Gaynes and guested on TV series including "The Defenders," "Mission: Impossible," "Bonanza," "Mannix," "Hogan's Heroes," "The Six Million Dollar Man," "Hawaii Five-0" and "Chicago Hope." In addition he appeared on the daytime soaps "General Hospital" and "Search for Tomorrow." Film credits included "The Way We Were," "Altered States" and "Wag the Dog."

Gaynes recurred from 1987-91 on the critically acclaimed NBC comedy "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd," starring Blair Brown and Gaynes' wife, actress Allyn Ann McLerie; he was a series regular, as Sen. Strobe Smithers, on the first season (1992-93) of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason-created comedy "Hearts Afire," starring John Ritter and Markie Post.

He retired in 2003 after appearing in the feature comedy "Just Married," starring Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy.

Gaynes is survived by his wife, actress Allyn Ann McLerie; his daughter, Brown; one granddaughter; and two great-granddaughters. His son, Matthew, died in a 1989 car crash.

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