Bronson Pinchot Says Winnie and Nelson Mandela Were “Perfect Strangers” Fans and Told Him ‘We Love Balki’ (Exclusive)

Pinchot played immigrant Balki Bartokomous on the 1986-93 ABC sitcom

<p>Mario Casilli/TV Guide/Everett; Rebecca Naden/PA Wire/AP</p> Bronson Pinchot (left) and Nelson and Winnie Mandela

Mario Casilli/TV Guide/Everett; Rebecca Naden/PA Wire/AP

Bronson Pinchot (left) and Nelson and Winnie Mandela

The impact of Perfect Strangers was felt all around the world, according to Bronson Pinchot.

The star of the 1986-93 comedy tells PEOPLE that Nelson Mandela, the late South African president, and his former wife Winnie Mandela, were fans of the sitcom about Balki Bartokomous (Pinchot) an immigrant from the fictional island of Mypos who moves in with his distant cousin Larry (Mark Linn-Baker) in Chicago.

In fact, the anti-apartheid activists told him so when he attended a banquet in South Africa at the height of the show’s popularity.

"I'm not making this up. I was at this big dinner and all of a sudden I get crushed from behind by this embrace, like your long-lost relative. And I turn around and it's Winnie Mandela,” recalls Pinchot, 65. “And she said, ‘If you only had any idea how much we love Balki here.’”

<p>ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty</p> Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker in ''Perfect Strangers'

ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty

Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker in ''Perfect Strangers'

“And I said, ‘My goodness, really?’” continues Pinchot, whose character was affectionately known as Cousin Balki. “Then I sat down and we were eating, it was a gigantic room, and then [an assistant] comes up with a note from Nelson Mandela.”

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“It said, ‘If I start going up to individual tables…’” recalls Pinchot, his voice cracking with emotion, “‘If I start going to individual tables, then I'll have to go to every table and I can't do that. But I wanted you to know that I know my cousin is here.’”

While Pinchot, who first broke out as flamboyant gallery worker Serge in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, enjoyed moments like that, he wasn’t always comfortable with attention from fans.

<p>Chris McPherson</p> Bronson Pinchot on May 23 in L.A.

Chris McPherson

Bronson Pinchot on May 23 in L.A.

Shortly after the movie premiered, he was out walking near his L.A. apartment when a car of teenagers accosted him in excitement. “They jumped out and started to make a fuss,” he recalls. “I went from poverty to people driving up on the sidewalk. I wasn't ready. Who's ready for that?”

Sometimes, the attention was downright scary. “Everybody's staring at you. And people sometimes will even make a death threat. They'll say, ‘Do the character for my girlfriend.’ And you say, ‘I think I'll just have my fruit salad, thank you.’ And then they say, ‘I'll have to kill you now.’ I mean, that's a real thing,” he says.

Related: Eddie Murphy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt Team Up in High-Energy Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F Trailer

And while Pinchot, who reprises his role as Serge in Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F has now grown more comfortable with his place in the spotlight, he’s still not one to seek it out.

<p>Courtesy of Netflix</p> Bronson Pinchot as Serge in 'Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F'

Courtesy of Netflix

Bronson Pinchot as Serge in 'Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F'

Pinchot says he was reluctant to attend the June 20 Los Angeles premiere of the new movie, but showed up after some prodding from his team. Jokes Pinchot, “[I got] covertly threatening emails and texts from my manager saying, ‘You will be on the red carpet.’”

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F is now streaming on Netflix.

For more on Bronson Pinchot, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE.

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