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Punky Brewster Star George Gaynes, 98, Has Died

Gaynes' last Broadway appearance was in the original 1973 production of Gigi.

Actor and singer George Gaynes in 1964.

Actor and singer George Gaynes, known for his roles on Punky Brewster and in seven Police Academy films, died Monday in North Bend, Washington. He was 98.

Born George Jongejans on May 16, 1917, in Helsinki, Finland, to Dutch and Russian parents, Gaynes grew up in France, England, and Switzerland. His early career was focused on opera, which he studied in Milan before his professional progress was put on hold by World War II, during which he served in the Royal Dutch Navy.

After the war, Gaynes moved to New York to continue his career as a member of the New York City Opera but soon found himself drawn more to acting. In 1950, he made his Broadway debut in the musical The Consul, also appearing in Cole Porter's Out of This World later that same year. In 1953, he also appeared in the original Broadway production of Wonderful Town by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. Gaynes' extensive on-screen career began in 1955, with a return to his opera roots on NBC Television Opera Theatre and a role on the TV movie One Touch of Venus. He soon went on to appear in series including The Defenders and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

In the '60s and '70s, Gaynes bounced back and forth between Broadway and Hollywood. Having returned to the Great White Way in 1963 to take a role in The Lady of the Camellias, he also appeared in Any Wednesday (1964) , Of Love Remembered (1967), and original production of Gigi (1973), his final broadway show. On television, he scored roles on Empire in 1963, The Patty Duke Show in 1965, Bonanza and Mission: Impossible in 1968, Columbo in 1972 and 1973, and Washington: Behind Closed Doors in 1977, among many others.

In the mid 1980s, Gaynes landed the three roles that he is perhaps best remembered for. In 1982, he played John Van Horn in the feature film Tootsie, starring Dustin Hoffman, and in 1984 he took on a starring role in Punky Brewster, that of Henry Warnimont, building manager and foster father to Soleil Moon Frye. Also in that decade, Gaynes made his debut as Commandant Lassard in the Police Academy film series, which would go on to include seven movies featuring the character.

Gaynes retired in 2003, with his final job being the comedy Just Married, starring Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy.

He is survived by his wife, actress Allyn Ann McLerie, a daughter, Iya, one granddaughter, and two great-granddaughters. His son, Matthew, died in 1989.

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