Jack Klugman, the gruff-faced actor best known for playing the slovenly half of TV’s Odd Couple, has died at age 90. Klugman died Dec. 24 in his Northridge, Calif., home, his son, Adam, told The Associated Press.
Born Jacob Joaquim Klugman in Philadelphia to Russian Jewish immigrants Rose, a hat maker, and Max, a house painter, he attended Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, where he graduated in 1948. He served in the United States Army during World War II. Upon his return from the Army, Klugman pursued acting in New York City, where he was roommates with another struggling actor, Charles Bronson.
Klugman appeared in several notable films, including Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and Blake Edwards’ Days of Wine and Roses. He spent most of the 1950s and 1960s acting in such dramatic television programs as The Twilight Zone, Ben Casey, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Fugitive. Klugman also originated the role of Herbie opposite Ethel Merman in Gypsy on Broadway, earning a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (he lost to another Jewish actor, Tom Bosley in Fiorello!).
But it was his role as Oscar Madison, the sloppy roommate of Tony Randall’s neat freak Felix Unger, that cemented him as a major star. Klugman and Randall played the roles originally portrayed by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the 1968 film, and by Matthau and Art Carney on Broadway.
The Odd Couple ran from 1970 – 1975 and won Klugman two Emmys and a Golden Globe (he had previously won an Emmy in 1964 for a guest spot on The Defenders). He and Randall were real-life best friends, and when Randall, who was also Jewish, died in 2004 at age 84, Klugman took the loss hard. The two appeared together on Broadway in a 1998 revival of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys. In 2005, he wrote a book entitled Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship.
After The Odd Couple ended, Klugman had the luck of appearing in another successful TV series, the medial drama Quincy M.E., where he played a savvy coroner who investigates suspicious deaths that usually suggest murder. The show ran from 1976 – 1983 and earned Klugman four Emmy nominations.
In 1974, Klugman successfully fought throat cancer and in 1989 lost a vocal cord to cancer. He had to learn how to speak again, and though his voice was gravelly and strained, he still continued to act.
Klugman was married to actress Brett Somers, best known as a regular panelist on The Match Game, from 1953 until her death in 2007, but the two were estranged since 1974, though they never divorced. In 2008, he married his longtime girlfriend Peggy Crosby, ex-wife of Bing Crosby’s son Phillip. She survives him, as does another son, David, a stepdaughter, Leslie, and two grandchildren.
Klugman was the first to admit he was never your typical matinee idol leading man. “I always looked old…” he once said. “When I was 22, I looked 80.”