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Old 12-24-2012, 08:05 PM   #1
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New York Times



December 24, 2012

Jack Klugman, Half of TV’s ‘Odd Couple,’ Dies at 90


Jack Klugman, the rubber-mugged character actor who leapt to television stardom in the 1970s as the slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison on “The Odd Couple” and as the crusading forensic pathologist of “Quincy, M.E.,” died on Monday at his home in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles. He was 90.

His death was confirmed by his stepson Randy Wilson.

At one time a heavy smoker, Mr. Klugman had survived throat cancer, which was diagnosed in 1974. After a vocal cord was removed in 1989, his voice was reduced to a gravelly whisper.

Mr. Klugman, who grew up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in Philadelphia, wasn’t a subtle performer. His features were large and mobile; his voice was a deep, earnest, rough-hewed bleat. He was a no-baloney actor who conveyed straightforward, simply defined emotion, whether it was anger, heartbreak, lust or sympathy.

That forthrightness, in both comedy and drama, was the source of his power and his popularity. Never remote, never haughty, he was a regular guy, an audience-pleaser who proved well-suited for series television.

Mr. Klugman was already a decorated actor in 1970 when he began co-starring in “The Odd Couple,” a sitcom adaptation of Neil Simon’s hit play about two divorced men — friends with antagonistic temperaments — sharing a New York apartment. (A film version was released in 1968 with Walter Matthau reprising his Broadway performance as Oscar.)

Opposite Mr. Klugman’s Oscar, an outgoing slob with a fondness for poker, cigars and sexy women, was Tony Randall as the pretentious fussbudget Felix Unger (spelled Ungar in the play and the film).

Mr. Klugman had played the part before: he had replaced Mr. Matthau for a few months on Broadway and had originated the role in London.

He also had more than 100 television credits behind him, including four episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and a 1964 episode of the legal drama “The Defenders,” in which he delivered an Emmy Award-winning performance as a blacklisted actor.

In the movies he had been the nouveau-riche father of a Jewish American princess (Ali MacGraw) in “Goodbye, Columbus” (1969); a police colleague of Frank Sinatra’s in “The Detective” (1968); Jack Lemmon’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor in “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962); and a murder-trial juror, alongside Henry Fonda, in “12 Angry Men” (1957).

In his solo moment in that film, his character, known only as Juror No. 5, recalls growing up in a tough neighborhood and instructs his fellow jurors in the proper use of a switchblade, a key element in their deliberations.

The “Odd Couple” series made Mr. Klugman a celebrity, but not immediately. During its five-year run, it never cracked the Top 20 in the Nielsen prime time ratings. Some critics said Mr. Klugman and Mr. Randall were always operating in the long shadows of the actors who came before them in the roles: besides Mr. Matthau as Oscar, Mr. Lemmon (film) and Art Carney (Broadway) had played Felix. But after “The Odd Couple” went into seemingly perpetual reruns, it earned a huge new following.

Mr. Klugman won two Emmys for the show and Mr. Randall one, and they eventually became the Oscar and Felix most identified with the roles.

“Quincy, M.E.” was as sincere a drama as the “The Odd Couple” was a loopy comedy, and though it is not remembered as fondly, its initial run, from 1976 to 1983, was far more successful. The title character, the medical examiner for Los Angeles County (Quincy’s first name was never revealed), was inspired by the real medical examiner at the time, Thomas T. Noguchi, known familiarly as “the coroner to the stars,” who performed autopsies on Marilyn Monroe, Robert F. Kennedy, Natalie Wood and John Belushi, among others.

Quincy, a forensic pathologist, was as much a crusading detective as he was a doctor. The show often focused on social problems — abuse of the elderly by their children, for example. (Mr. Klugman occasionally wrote for the show and fought with network executives over its content.) And it could be preachy. But it achieved high ratings and even made an impact on health-care policy.

A 1981 episode, about a young man with Tourette’s syndrome, drew attention to so-called orphan drugs, medications that drug companies ignore as unprofitable because the conditions they treat are relatively rare. The House Subcommittee on Health and Environment invited Mr. Klugman to Washington to testify on the issue.

“How many cries before they get heard?” Mr. Klugman said of those with rare disorders. “We are not talking about orphan drugs; we’re talking about orphan people.”

The Orphan Drug Act, offering economic incentives to pharmaceutical companies for developing such drugs, was passed in 1983.

Mr. Klugman’s path to success was serendipitous. He was born in Philadelphia on April 27, 1922, the youngest of six children of immigrants from Russia. Most sources indicate that his name at birth was Jacob, though Mr. Klugman said in an interview that the name on his birth certificate is Jack.

His father, Max, was a house painter who died when Jack was 12. His mother, Rose, was a milliner who worked out of the family home on the city’s hardscrabble South Side, where Jack grew up shooting pool, rolling dice and playing the horses. His interest in acting was kindled at 14 or 15 when his sister took him to a play, “One Third of a Nation,” a “living newspaper” production of the Federal Theater Project about life in an American slum; the play made the case for government housing projects.

“I just couldn’t believe the power of it,” he said of the production in an interview in 1998 for the Archive of American Television, crediting the experience for instilling in him his social-crusading impulse. “I wanted to be a muckraker.”

After a stint in the Army — he was discharged because of a kidney ailment — Mr. Klugman returned to Philadelphia but racked up a debt to loan sharks who were so dangerous that he left town. He landed in Pittsburgh, where he auditioned for the drama department at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University).

“They said: ‘You’re not suited to be an actor. You’re more suited to be a truck driver,’ ” he recalled. But this was 1945, the war was just ending and there was a dearth of male students, so he was accepted. “There were no men,” he said. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have taken me in.”

After two years at Carnegie he left for New York, where he led the poverty-stricken life of an aspiring actor, taking bit parts in summer stock and hole-in-the-wall New York productions, occasionally selling pints of blood to pay the rent. He roomed for a while with Charles Bronson, who introduced him to vigorous exercise.

It was a good thing. A strong physique was the first requirement in Broadway auditions for “Mister Roberts,” a World War II comedy about life on a Navy cargo ship. Mr. Klugman passed the test when he stripped off his shirt. He was hired as an understudy and for 15 months worked alongside Fonda, the star of the show, who took him under his wing. Mr. Klugman gave Fonda credit for helping him to get crucial early roles, including the one in “12 Angry Men.”

Mr. Klugman also appeared in a 1952 revival of Clifford Odets’s “Golden Boy,” which starred John Garfield and Lee J. Cobb, and the musical “Gypsy,” in which he was paired with Ethel Merman, playing Herbie, the reluctant theatrical agent who loves Merman’s Momma Rose.

In 1953, Mr. Klugman married the actress Brett Somers. They separated in 1974 (she played Oscar Madison’s former wife on “The Odd Couple”) but were never divorced. She died in 2007. Their two sons, Adam and David, survive him. In 2008 Mr. Klugman married his longtime partner, Peggy Crosby. She survives him as well, as do two stepsons, Mr. Wilson and Phil Crosby Jr., and two grandchildren.

Mr. Klugman returned to the theater in the 1980s, touring in a one-man show based on the life of Lyndon B. Johnson and replacing Judd Hirsch on Broadway as a crusty, bench-sitting old man in Herb Gardner’s play “I’m Not Rappaport.” He also starred in the television series “You Again?,” in which he played a long-divorced man whose 17-year-old son (John Stamos) moves in with him. The show lasted two seasons.

After his vocal cord surgery, Mr. Klugman was prepared to devote himself to raising racehorses, a longtime side pursuit; one of his horses, Jaklin Klugman, finished third in the 1980 Kentucky Derby. But with therapy he regained his voice and returned to the stage, appearing with Mr. Randall in a benefit performance of “The Odd Couple” in 1991.

He and Mr. Randall also reunited for a 1997 revival of “The Sunshine Boys,” Neil Simon’s comedy about a couple of crotchety old vaudevillians, produced on Broadway by Mr. Randall’s repertory company, the National Actors Theater. In 2005, the year after Mr. Randall died, Mr. Klugman published “Tony and Me,” a memoir.

Mr. Klugman, who always said he preferred acting in the theater, recalled initially turning down the television role in “The Odd Couple.” He wanted to do a play instead. But when the play quickly closed, he reconsidered; he needed the money.

Even so, Mr. Klugman wasn’t known as a comic actor, and by then Mr. Randall wanted Mickey Rooney for the role of Oscar. It took the producer, Garry Marshall, to persuade Mr. Randall that Mr. Klugman was right the part. He had seen Mr. Klugman do comedy, Mr. Marshall said, referring to his performance in “Gypsy.”

“He said, ‘I saw you with Ethel Merman, and she was singing to you and spitting all over you,’ ” Mr. Klugman said, recalling Mr. Marshall’s explanation for casting him. “ ‘And you never showed it. That’s a good actor that doesn’t show the spit.’ That’s why he gave me the part.”

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Old 12-25-2012, 09:50 AM   #2
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Aw crap.

RIP Oscar.

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Old 12-25-2012, 12:56 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Hewson View Post
Aw crap.

RIP Oscar.
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Old 12-25-2012, 03:00 PM   #4
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He was a great Wolverine, and sad that his first Oscar nom (for Les Mis) will be posthumous.

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Old 12-26-2012, 03:25 AM   #5
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Quincy and the odd couple were two of my three favorite things on tv when I was in middle school (cos apparently I only liked things that were in re-runs, the third being mash).
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Old 01-14-2013, 12:22 PM   #6
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I loved Quincy. It was fantastic. I shall expand on this latter on.
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Old 03-04-2013, 10:57 AM   #7
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So sad. I loved The Odd Couple.

RIP Jack.
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Old 03-04-2013, 01:03 PM   #8
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I saw this thread bumped and I thought Klugman had died again.

Or risen from the grave.

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