Veteran actor George Gaynes, best known for his work in the Police Academy series as Commandant Eric Lassard, has died at his family home in Washington State, aged 98. A prolific character actor, his work in film, television and theatre spanned six decades.
Born in 1917 in Helsinki, named George Jongejans at birth, Gaynes was raised in Europe, with spells in France, Switzerland, and England. After serving in the Royal Navy during World War II, he moved the US, where he earned American citizenship, and remained there for the rest of his life.
During the ‘40s and ‘50s, he enjoyed a healthy career on Broadway, becoming well known to audiences for comedies and musicals, including a large national tour of My Fair Lady. He became a hard-working character actor on television in the ‘60s and ‘70s, appearing on Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, Hogan’s Heroes, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Columbo, among many others.
In the 1980s, American audiences came to know him as grouchy foster parent Henry Warnimont in TV sitcom Punky Brewster; minor film roles also materialised, including a role opposite Dustin Hoffman in the cross-dressing comedy Tootsie.
But it was not until 1984 that Gaynes, aged 67, earned the role of his lifetime, as the bumbling Commandant Lassard in Police Academy. The hapless Lassard appeared in all seven Police Academy movies, plus guest appearances in the 1990s television series spin-off.