NORTHRIDGE (CNN) –
Jack Klugman, best known as messy sports writer Oscar Madison in TV’s “The Odd Couple,” died Monday at his California home, his son Adam said. He was 90.
His lawyer, Larry Larson, said he died at his house in Northridge, just north of Los Angeles, with his wife by his side.
Veteran actor William Shatner tweeted: “Condolences go out to the family of Jack Klugman. An extraordinary and talented man. He will be missed.”
Klugman, who won two Emmys for his role in the early 1970s sitcom, also starred in “Quincy, M.E.” as medical examiner Dr. R. Quincy from 1976 to 1983.
He told Larry King in 2001 that he played Madison on Broadway before the TV show debuted.
“So when (executive producer) Garry Marshall called me, I thought he’d seen me do it on Broadway and that’s why he wanted me. He said, ‘No, I never saw you.’ I said, ‘So why did you want me?’ He said, ‘Well, I saw you in ‘Gypsy,’ and Ethel Merman was singing to you, and she was spitting all over you.’ ”
Marshall continued, Klugman said: ” ‘You know, that’s a good actor, he’s not showing that she’s spitting all over him.’ That’s why he hired me.”
The show, based on a Neil Simon play, was the hilarious story of two recently divorced men who became mismatched roommates. Madison was the gruff, wisecracking slob. Felix Unger, played by the late Tony Randall, was the neurotic neat freak who was a professional photographer.
But while the characters were always at odds with each other, the actors got along famously.
When asked by King if he had a natural simpatico with Randall, Klugman said: “Oh, yeah, it happened so beautifully.”
He said the two made up a lot of the script on the spot.
“He would provoke you into saying something funny. That’s true improvisation,” he told King. “It was wonderful. I had a great time. I learned a lot.”
Randall, who died in 2004, was succinct. “It just clicked,” he told King.
According to Klugman, the show, which made its debut in 1970, was on the verge of being canceled every year until it actually was axed in 1975.
The show lives on in syndication, just as Klugman told Randall it would.
“You see, when were on originally, we never had a rating.” Randall told King in 1996. “We were not a success. It’s hard to believe, but Jack always said, ‘Someday, we’ll come back in reruns, and they’ll find us because we know we were good,’ and he just was right dead center on target.”
That paid off nicely for the actors, who received part ownership; Klugman said he received 10% while Randall got 20%. It earned Klugman far more than the $7,000 an episode he made for the last season of 22 episodes.
Klugman and Randall later reunited for a 1993 TV movie “The Odd Couple: Together Again” and the 1999 Broadway play, “Sunshine Boys,” according to the Internet Movie Database website. They also performed the stage version of “The Odd Couple” in London.
When “The Odd Couple” ended, he didn’t want to do another TV series, Klugman told King, even though he got a lot of offers for more comedies. He said he eventually became fascinated with the lead character in “Quincy.”
“This guy is two heroes in one. He is a cop, he is a doctor,” he said he told his agent. The show was successful because even though it was about death, it lacked violence. It was about social issues, he said.
Klugman also won an Emmy in 1964 for outstanding single performance by an actor in a leading role for portraying a blacklisted actor in an episode of “The Defenders.”
Klugman’s stage, film and television acting career spanned more than five decades.
One of his first breaks was as a 29-year-old understudy in the comedic play “Mister Roberts,” starring Henry Fonda.
Klugman spent 15 months on the road and played the role of a doctor for two months. The doctor was supposed to be about 40 years old.
“I always looked old anyway. When I was 22, I looked 80,” Klugman said.
A Philadelphia native, Klugman also made his mark in movies, including an early role as a member of the jury in 1957’s “12 Angry Men,” and as Ali McGraw’s father in “Goodbye, Columbus” in 1969.
He was the last of the 12 actors from “12 Angry Men” to pass away.
His earliest acting was on the stage in New York, where he continued to perform throughout his life.
Some of his memorable early TV appearances included roles on “The Twilight Zone” and the crime drama “Naked City.” The Internet Movie Database lists 97 television and film credits for Klugman.
A battle with throat cancer in the late 1980s reduced his voice to a rasp, but it did not end his career.
Klugman was also a big fan of the ponies.
“I always was a player,” he said. “I had been gambling on horses since I was a kid, 15 years old. And when I came (to Los Angeles), I came involved with people” with home he began to buy horses.
One of the race horses turned up lame so Klugman agreed to breed the horse and sell the foal.
Instead he decided to keep it and name it Jack. But when it was born, he was told the horse was a female so he named it Jacklin. When he received the horse, it turned out it was a male after all.
Jacklin Klugman finished third in the 1980 Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness Stakes.
Klugman was first married to the late Brett Somers — an actress and regular panelist on the TV quiz show “Match Game” — from 1953 until her death in 2007, the website said. People magazine reported that the two separated in 1974 but never divorced.
At the time of his death, he was married to former actress and longtime girlfriend Peggy Crosby, whom he married in 2008 when he was 85. Klugman is also survived by another son, David.
CNN’s David Daniel and Alan Duke contributed to this report.
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