Nia Vardalos Missed Father’s Funeral Due to Coronavirus Travel Restrictions

Greek-Canadian actress and playwright Nia Vardalos. (Photo by Kostas Katomeris/ EUROKINISSI, FILE)

LOS ANGELES – Actress and writer Nia Vardalos, best known for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, could not attend her father’s funeral in person on March 19 due to the coronavirus travel concerns, Variety reported.

Constantine Nicholas (Gus) Vardalos passed away on March 12. The last time Nia Vardalos saw her father in person was at Christmas when she visited her parents in Winnipeg, Canada, Variety reported, adding that Gus, 87, was the inspiration for her character’s father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and had been in declining health.

“It was like watching your favorite wind-up toy slowly slowly losing its batteries over the last year,” Nia told Variety. “At Christmas we were all there. He was on the couch, happy and mobile. He wasn’t incapacitated but not quite running a marathon… I had a feeling this might be it.”

When it was time for her to leave, Vardalos told Variety that, “there was a moment that flashed between my dad and me when we said goodbye…I think he was saying, ‘This really is goodbye.’”

A few weeks later, her father was hospitalized. Due to the coronavirus pandemic Nia was unable to return to Canada for his final days, but through FaceTime, she was able to say goodbye as local family members stood around Gus’ bed, Variety reported.

Vardalos told Variety, “They held up the phone to him and I got to thank him for an incredible life and tell him he was a gentleman and he was a great dad. My mom held his hand and said, ‘It’s okay for you to go.’”

The funeral was livestreamed on March 19. “I always said my dad has impeccable timing,” Nia told Variety, adding that “she believes that he waited to pass after social-distancing and self-quarantine became the norm because if he had died just a few days earlier, his funeral would attracted a massive of crowd of friends and family, many who would have flown in from Greece, Chicago and Australia.”

“If he had gone 14 days ago when they weren’t acknowledging the global threat, we all would have gathered and it could have brought down the city and also we would have gone back to all our communities and could have spread something. He waited until the church said they couldn’t have any more large gatherings. I think my father knew he was keeping people safe,” she said, Variety reported.

Turning her grief into a fundraising endeavor, Vardalos posted on social media to inspire people to donate to nonprofit organizations using #bigfatdonation, Variety reported, adding that “she’s advising people where to donate to make sure the money is going to legitimate organizations.”

“One person wrote to me and said, ‘I only have $25, but I want to help,’” Nia told Variety.

Nia’s longtime friends Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, though battling coronavirus in Australia, donated to Nia’s father’s church which is sponsoring an outreach program for the elderly, Variety reported, adding that “Asylum Entertainment CEO Steve Michaels made sure the church had the right audio and visual equipment to livestream services.”

Others including Greek-American actor Michael Chiklis and screenwriters Brian Lynch and Liz Hannah, donated to Big Sunday, a Los Angeles organization “helping get masks and gloves to hospitals as well as preparing and delivering dinners to the hospital staffs,” Variety reported.

Vardalos told Variety, “People in our industry, we’re fortunate, we’re privileged, we’re pampered and some of us want to use our voices to do something. That’s why I decided to go online and find different organizations. We have to do some good or we’re going to go nuts.”

Constantine Vardalos is survived by his beloved wife, Doreen (nee Christakos) of 60 years, and his loving children, Nancy (Dimos), Nia (Ian), Marianne (Anas) and Niko (Alexandra). Pappou Gus will be profoundly missed by his grandchildren, Foti, Paris, Costa, Dominique, Tiahn, Ilaria, Ariana and Aris.

The eldest son of Nicholas and Antonia Vardalos, Constantine was predeceased by his brothers, Thanasi and Theodore (Frieda) and his sister, Maria (Yiannis). He will be missed by surviving sisters, Angeliki (Constantine) Demacopoulos, Irini (Dimitri) Skoufis and Akrivoula (Theodore) Papagianniopoulos, by brother Panagiotis (Sophie), and by sister-in-law Melissa (George) Diacos. He is also survived by cousins, nephews and nieces across Canada, the USA, Greece, and Australia.

Born in the village of Drymos, Kalavryta, on the Greek Peloponese, Vardalos crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1954. The then-22-year-old was processed by Canadian immigration and traveled to Rosetown, Saskatchewan for work. Having trained in the Greek Air Force as a mechanic, Vardalos eventually traveled to Chicago to attend Greer College’s Auto Mechanics Program. He then made his way back to Winnipeg where he temporarily lived with uncle and aunt, Theodore and Ruby Vardalos, and secured an apprenticeship at Inman Motors on Main Street.

Vardalos was a cantor in the city’s only Greek Orthodox Church on Furby Street, where he set his sights on a parishioner named Doreen Christakos. They soon married and settled in St. Vital where he and his brothers were growing their businesses and their families.

Committed to preserving Greek heritage for the well-being of the Greek diaspora, Gus served as President of the Greek Orthodox Community from 1972 to 1975, at which time, he presided over the construction of the new church on Grant Avenue. He also sat on the church council for several years as both executive and a member at large. Gus was a volunteer at Folklorama for many years, and also acted as Mayor of the Greek Pavilion. He always saw it his duty to preserve the Apostolic Tradition and to exemplify Christian service through faith and humility, and was honored to be ordained under the Archdiocese to the rank of Anagnostes Reader.

Vardalos lived the North American Dream and was immortalized as the iconic, Gus Portakolas in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

In honor of Vardalos’ love and commitment to Winnipeg’s Greek Orthodox Community donations, in lieu of flowers, may be made to the St. Demetrios Church, 2255 Grant Ave., Winnipeg MB R3P 0S2. Phone: 204-889-8723, Fax: 204-837-4340, Email: greekcom@mymts.net.

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