'Odd Couple,' 'Quincy' Star Jack Klugman Dies at 90

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Jack Klugman, whose performance as the slovenly New York sportswriter Oscar Madison in the hit ABC series The Odd Couple won him two Emmys and made him a disheveled household name, has died. He was 90.

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His wife Peggy told KABC-TV in Los Angeles that the actor was home in Northridge when he died Monday afternoon on Christmas Eve. No other details were immediately available.

With his gruff voice and blunt manner, Klugman touched a chord as a sympathetic everyman character throughout his six-decade career. After The Odd Couple, Klugman went on to star as a medical examiner in the hit NBC series Quincy M.E.

Klugman’s film roles were less numerous, but selective, including turns in as earnest young jurist No. 5 in Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men (1957); as Jack Lemmon’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor in Blake EdwardsDays of Wine and Roses (1962); as Ali MacGraw’s nouveau-riche Jewish father in Goodbye, Columbus (1969); and as a gambler in the terrorist thriller Two-Minute Warning (1976).

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It was his Odd Couple paring opposite Tony Randall, who played the epicene photographer Felix Unger, that brought Klugman widespread fame. The Paramount Television series, executive produced by Garry Marshall and based on the smash 1965 Neil Simon play, ran mostly on Friday nights from 1970-75 but was never a ratings sensation. With 114 episodes, it continues to run in syndication today.

Klugman had already had a taste of the role, having replaced Walter Matthau for a stint on Broadway. (Matthau was originally paired with Art Carney on the stage and with Lemmon in the 1968 film.) Randall died in 2004 at age 84.

With his Odd Couple success, Klugman vaulted to series star in Quincy, in which he played a medical examiner who invariably becomes involved in solving a crime. The series was inspired by the professional life of longtime L.A. coroner Thomas Noguchi, who became nationally known through his work on a number of grizzly L.A. murders.

With Klugman playing the cantankerous and intrepid Quincy, the Universal TV series enjoyed an impressive run on NBC from 1976-83.

Klugman then starred in a short-lived sitcom, You Again? where he played a father whose life is disrupted when his estranged teenaged son (John Stamos) returns to live with him.

Often playing endearing curmudgeons, Klugman starred on Broadway in a revival of Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, which he also performed later at Marshall’s Falcon Theatre in Burbank. He sang in the original 1959 production of Gypsy, auditioning for Ethel Merman.

Klugman, who was a heavy smoker, suffered from throat cancer and had parts of his larynx removed in 1989. He went without speaking for years but managed to retrain the one vocal cord he had left to talk again.

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Klugman was born on April 27, 1922, in South Philadelphia. He attended Carnegie Mellon University but got the acting bug and moved to New York, rooming for a time with actor Charles Bronson. He made his stage debut with Saint Joan and throughout his long career continued to appear on the stage, including in 1986's I’m Not Rappaport.

Klugman’s versatility won him a wide range of TV roles during the so-called Golden Age of Television during the ‘50s. He appeared four times in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone and on The U.S. Steel Hour, Captain Video and His Video Rangers, Studio One and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1964, he won an Emmy with a guest-star role on The Defenders, a popular Saturday lawyer drama starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed.

Klugman didn’t get his first feature film role until 1956 when he was 34, appearing in the movie Timetable.

"The only thing that's never let me down is acting," Klugman told the Los Angeles Times in 1998 as he embarked on playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at the Falcon. "That's because I've never let it down. Out of everything I do -- whether it's here in a 99-seater or in a 3,000-seater -- it's the best that I can do."

Klugman served on the board of directors of New York’s National Actors Theatre and was active in charitable activities. In 2000, he received the International Media Award form the American Speech-Language-Hearing Assn., which recognizes those with speech and hearing disorders who have made extraordinary personal or professional achievements. 

In February 2008, at age 85, Klugman married longtime girlfriend Peggy Crosby. He also was married to actress and Match Game funnywoman Brett Somers from 1953 until she died in 2007 (they were legally separated in 1974 but never divorced).

Survivors include by sons David and Adam and two grandchildren.

 

 

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