His six-foot-tall Russian mother was a celebrated bohemian in the Paris avant-garde of the 1920s, and his Dutch father was a businessman.
Born in Helsinki when Finland was still an independent outpost of the Russian Empire.
Introduced to opera by Russian basso Feodor Chaliapin, who was a friend of his mother's.
Interned in Spain for three months during World War II, and, after his release, enlisted in the Royal Dutch Navy.
Emigrated to New York as a singer after World War II, appearing not only in Don Giovanni and in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas with the New York City Opera, but on Broadway in Cole Porter's Out of This World and in Leonard Bernstein's Wonderful Town.
After toiling for years in bit parts in movies, TV shows and onstage, finally came to critical attention at the age of 65 for his supporting role in Tootsie.