Police Academy star George Gaynes has died at the age of 98.
A veteran character actor whose career spanned six decades, Gaynes starred as the bumbling Commandant Lassard in all seven Police Academy films and had an acclaimed supporting role in Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning Tootsie.
Gaynes also starred in 86 episodes of 80s sitcom Punky Brewster, playing the foster father of the titular character.
Gaynes was born in 1917 in Helsinki while it was still part of the Russian Empire. Raised in various countries across Europe, he became an accomplished opera singer – singing on the stages of Italy and France – before going on to serve in the Royal Navy in World War II.
He went on to build a career as a Broadway musical performer in the 40s and 50s before transitioning to TV in his late thirties.
Gaynes was a regular guest star on American TV classics such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, Columbo and The Six Million Dollar Man, before landing his iconic Police Academy role at the age of 67.
His most iconic moment in the series came during a climactic speech during the first movie in 1984. Watch Gaynes’ comedy master class below…
He went on to play Lassard in six more films and 1997’s short-lived TV spin-off Police Academy: The Series.
The Police Academy films were often been pegged as the US’s answer to the Carry On franchise. The two series both shared a proclivity for below-the-belt humour, innuendo and slapstick comedy.
Gaynes’ final screen appearance came in 2003’s Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy comedy Just Married.
“I’m so glad I gave some people in life a good feeling about themselves. Or myself for that matter,” Gaynes said in a 2013 interview to celebrate his 95th birthday.
He is survived by his wife, actress Allyn Ann McLerie, his daughter Iya and grandchildren. His son Matthew died in a car accident in 1989.