Jack Klugman of TV's 'Odd Couple' dies at 90
Posted December 25, 2012
LOS ANGELES - Jack Klugman, the prolific, craggy-faced character actor and regular guy who was loved by millions as the messy one in TV's The Odd Couple and the crime-fighting coroner in Quincy, M.E., died on Christmas Eve, his son said. He was 90.
Klugman, who lost his voice to throat cancer in the 1980s and trained himself to speak again, died with his wife at his side.
"He had a great life and he enjoyed every moment of it and he would encourage others to do the same," son Adam Klugman said.
Jack Klugman apparently died suddenly, and family members were not sure of the exact cause.
As word of Klugman's death spread, comedians tweeted their appreciation. "You made my whole family laugh together," Jon Favreau wrote. Whoopi Goldberg hailed him as a "cool guy, wonderful actor," and William Shatner remembered Klugman as "an extraordinary and talented man."
"I lost my mentor, second father and my dear friend," John Stamos said. Ricky Gervais, tweeting for a generation of fans, cited Klugman's numerous credits and marveled "... and he looked just like my dad."
Never anyone's idea of a matinee idol, Klugman remained a popular star for decades simply by playing a gruff but down-to-earth guy, his tie stained and a little loose, a cigar in hand during the days when smoking was permitted.
His was an ideal persona for The Odd Couple, which ran from 1970 to 1975 and was based on Neil Simon's play about mismatched roommates, divorced New Yorkers who end up living together. The show teamed Klugman, the sloppy sports writer Oscar Madison, and Tony Randall, the fussy photographer Felix Unger, in the roles played by Walter Matthau and Art Carney on Broadway and Mattthau and Jack Lemmon in the 1968 film. Klugman would go on to win two Emmy Awards for his portrayal.
Klugman had already had a taste of the show when he replaced Matthau on Broadway, and he learned to roll with the quick-thinking Randall.
"There's nobody better to improvise with than Tony," Klugman said. "A script might say, 'Oscar teaches Felix football.' There would be four blank pages. He would provoke me into reacting to what he did. Mine was the easy part."
They were the best of friends in real life. When Randall died in 2004 at age 84, Klugman told CNN: "A world without Tony Randall is a world that I cannot recognize."
In Quincy, M.E., which ran from 1976 to 1983, Klugman played an idealistic, tough-minded medical examiner who tussled with his boss by uncovering evidence of murder in cases where others saw natural causes.
"Everybody said, 'Quincy will never be a hit.' I said, 'You guys are wrong. He's two heroes in one, a cop and a doctor,' " he said in a 1987 Associated Press interview.
But it was his partnership with Randall that would prove to be his defining role. When Klugman lost a vocal cord to cancer in 1989, it was Randall who insisted Klugman could bounce back.
"My career was over," Klugman told USA TODAY in 1997, when he reunited with Randall on Broadway for Simon's The Sunshine Boys. "I couldn't even swallow: I had to lay on my side. I lived alone, could barely whisper. I cut off everybody."
But when the two old friends teamed up for an Odd Couple benefit performance, "everybody was crying," Klugman recalled, performing a waterfall of tears with his fingers. "The cast, the audience, these people who had paid $1,000 a seat."
Jacob Joachim "Jack" Klugman was born in 1922 in Philadelphia. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. His mother, Rose, was a hatmaker and his father, Max, was a house painter.
Klugman graduated in 1948 from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). He began his acting career after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.
His TV career included more than 400 appearances on midcentury live dramas, including Studio One, Philco Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre and U.S. Steel Hour.
He won an Emmy for his work on the TV courtroom drama The Defenders, which aired on CBS from 1961 to 1965, and appeared on four episodes of The Twilight Zone.
He also worked with Ethel Merman on Broadway in the original stage production of Gypsy, which opened in 1959. It was loosely based on the memoirs of the famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. Merman starred as Rose, Lee's mother, and Klugman as her suitor Herbie, a role that earned him a Tony nomination.
Highlights of his film career include his role as Juror #5 in 1957's 12 Angry Men. He was the last surviving actor of the 12 who portrayed the jurors, including Lee J. Cobb and Henry Fonda.
He also starred with Lemmon and Lee Remick in Blake Edwards' 1962 film Days of Wine and Roses and 1969's Goodbye, Columbus with Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw.
In 2005, Klugman self-published Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship, a book about his longtime pal Randall, who died in 2004. Klugman gave the eulogy at Randall's memorial service.
In March 2012, Klugman canceled plans to appear in a stage production of 12 Angry Men at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey, citing poor health.
Klugman's wife, actress/comedian Brett Somers, played his ex-wife, Blanche, in the Odd Couple series. The couple, who married in 1953 and had two sons, Adam and David, had been estranged for years at the time of her death in 2007. In February 2008, at age 85, Klugman married longtime girlfriend Peggy Crosby.
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