Jack Klugman, the Primetime Emmy-winning actor best known for roles in the long-running series The Odd Couple and Quincy, M.E., died December 24, 2012, in Northridge, Calif. He was 90. Klugman had battled throat cancer in the late 1980s, lost his voice as a result and trained himself to speak again. The cause of death was not specified. With an everyman persona that lent itself to comedy and drama with equal facility, Klugman enjoyed a thriving career for six decades.
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he was born Jacob Joachim Klugman on April 27, 1922, in Philadelphia. His father was a house painter and his mother a hatmaker. Klugman served in the Army during World War II and in 1848 he graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he began performing. He began working in television in the early years of the medium and made hundreds of appearances on live dramas in the so-called golden age, including Studio One, Philco Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre and U.S. Steel Hour.
He won the first of his three Primetime Emmys for an episode of the legal drama The Defenders, and he had roles in four memorable episodes of the classic anthology The Twilight Zone. He also performed regularly on stage, and in 1959 he costarred of the original Broadway production of the musical Gypsy, as the romantic partner of domineering Mama Rose, played by Ethel Merman. He received a Tony nomination for his performance. In addition, he took over the role of slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison from Walter Matthau in the Broadway production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. Matthau played the role in the 1968 movie opposite Jack Lemmon as Madison’s fussy roommate, and fellow divorcé, Felix Unger. When the play was adapted as a television series, Klugman reprised the role of Madison and won two Emmys for his work. Unger was played by Tony Randall, who became a dear friend to Klugman for the rest of his life. When Randall died in 2004, Klugman delivered the eulogy, and the following year Klugman self-published a book, Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship, in honor of Randall and their close bond.
Klugman’s other feature film work included roles in 12 Angry Men, Days of Wine and Roses and Goodbye, Columbus, but it was television where he left his greatest mark. In 1976 Klugman began another signature role in Quincy, M.E., as the titular coroner who solved murders. The show aired which through 1983 and earned him more Emmy nominations. In 1998 Klugman had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. The entire interview is available online.
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