Though his Raymond character Frank Barone was a curmudgeon whose favorite expression was "Holy crap," "Peter is very intellectual," his wife, Loraine, told PEOPLE in 1999. "He can talk about anything from philosophy to politics to history. With Frank, his character, you get the feeling that he's mainly interested in the next slice of pizza."
In Philadelphia, where the future actor grew up, his father, Peter Sr., was known as Uncle Pete, host of a local children's TV show (mom Alice was a homemaker). But Boyle, the youngest of three, resisted showbiz and in 1953 enrolled in Philadelphia's La Salle University, where he joined the order of Christian Brothers, a brief commitment that would later baffle him.
"I had a spiritual experience, and then I didn't," he said of his vow of poverty and chastity. "It got too hard, not dating anybody, not being able to go to the movies. You don't do anything but study and pray!"
After graduating from La Salle in 1957, Boyle moved to New York City to become an actor. "I went from poverty to real poverty," he said. After landing a few theater roles in the '60s, Boyle finally nabbed the lead in the 1970 cult film Joe. That same year he turned down Gene Hackman's Oscar-winning role in The French Connection on his agent's advice.
"When the movie came out I got high, I got depressed," Boyle told PEOPLE, adding, "I don't drink or drug, and I haven't for many years."
He rebounded with his hilarious role as the monster in Mel Brooks's 1974 spoof, Young Frankenstein. Boyle called it "the highlight of my career."
On the Frankenstein set he met journalist Loraine Alterman. The couple married in 1977 with their mutual friend John Lennon as best man.
The couple's first child, Lucy, was born two days after Lennon's December 1980 murder. ("One goes, one comes," said Boyle. "It's still mind-bending.") The actor's second daughter, Amy, arrived in 1983.
His speech improved, and in 1994, Boyle costarred in the Sandra Bullock hit While You Were Sleeping.
When he tried out for Raymond in 1996, his agitation over arriving late to the audition helped him nail the part. "I was ready to pop," Boyle recalled. "I didn't plan it that way, but I was just like Frank when I walked in."
Though Boyle was nominated several times for an Emmy for his Raymond role, he never won. He did win an outstanding guest actor Emmy in 1996 for his appearance on The X-Files.
Funeral arrangements for the actor will be announced shortly.