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Gene Greytak dies at 84; retired real estate broker became papal impersonator

Lifelong Catholic was at first reluctant to take on the 'role' of Pope John Paul II and was careful never to be inappropriate. The L.A. Archdiocese told him he was not breaking any canon law.

March 02, 2010|By Keith Thursby
  • Playing Pope John Paul II, retired real estate broker Gene Greytak takes a swing during a N.Y. Mets fantasy camp in 1996.
Playing Pope John Paul II, retired real estate broker Gene Greytak takes… (Rick Silva / Associated…)

Gene Greytak, whose resemblance to Pope John Paul II turned the retired real estate broker into a papal impersonator with appearances in movies and television, has died. He was 84.

Greytak died Sunday at his home in North Tustin of cancer, said his wife of 62 years, Dorothy.


FOR THE RECORD:
A news obituary in Thursday's LATExtra section of Gene Greytak, known for impersonating Pope John Paul II, incorrectly reported the time of his funeral on March 13. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m., not 1 p.m.

He was a lifelong Catholic who at first was reluctant to become a celebrity impersonator despite the obvious physical similarities and the encouragement of family and friends.

"It took me about five years to get up enough courage," he told the Orange County Register in 1987.

But once he had publicity pictures taken when he was dressed in white robes "it was like a transformation," his son, Lee, said.

Greytak appeared on late-night television with Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and Arsenio Hall and in several series in the 1980s and '90s including "Ally McBeal," "Picket Fences," "Murphy Brown," "Golden Girls," "Alf" and "Night Court." His movie bits included "Sister Act" in 1992 and "Naked Gun 33 1/3: the Final Insult" in 1994.

He also could be seen at birthday parties, telethons, reunions and charity events. "He did a lot for charity," his son said.

"I've been at a lot of parties," Greytak told the Register. "When people see me come in, it's like the Red Sea opening up. Everybody moves to the side. If they're holding cocktails, all their glasses go behind them."

Eugene Edward Greytak was born Nov. 14, 1925, in Trumbull, Conn. He served in the Army during World War II and was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, his son said.

Greytak, his wife and their two children moved to California in 1958. He started working in real estate a year later.

Greytak said he was careful not to do anything inappropriate while impersonating the pope, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles informed him that his performance did not violate any canon law of the church.

Along with his wife and son, Greytak is survived by another son, Mark; brothers Steve, George and Albert; a sister, Jean Andrejko; and three grandchildren.

There will be a viewing from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Fairhaven Memorial Park and Mortuary in Santa Ana. Services will be at 1 p.m. March 13 at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange.

keith.thursby@latimes.com

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