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Overview for Jack Klugman
Jack Klugman

Jack Klugman


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Also Known As: Died: December 24, 2012
Born: April 27, 1922 Cause of Death: Prostate Cancer
Birth Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA Profession: Cast ... actor writer


Emmy Award-winning actor Jack Klugman was known primarily for his portrayals of two of television's most memorable characters, although his career also boasted more than 50 years of credits in film and on Broadway. The actor's early years were comprised of work on the stages of New York, on television anthologies such as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (CBS, 1955-1962), and in features films like "12 Angry Men" (1957), alongside Henry Fonda. Several guest turns on the "Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1971) and a supporting role in the comedy-drama "Goodbye, Columbus" (1969) preceded his long-running portrayal of the cretinous Oscar Madison opposite Tony Randall's fastidious Felix Unger on "The Odd Couple" (ABC, 1970-75). Klugman went on to win two Emmy Awards for his hilarious personification of the sports-loving vulgarian, only to embody another iconic television character in the form of the crime-solving "Quincy, M.E." (NBC, 1976-1983). Although the actor's love of fine cigars led to serious health problems later in life, he persevered, even returning to Broadway for a revival of "The Sunshine Boys" in 1997 and penning a memoir about his former co-star Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship in 2005. Whether remembered for playing a slovenly sportswriter, a tenacious medical examiner, or one of his dozens of other portrayals, Klugman's acting legacy was one of humor, insight and humanity.

Jacob Joachim Klugman was born on April 27, 1922 in Philadelphia, PA. He grew up very poor and had a rough childhood, starting with the death of his house painter father at a very young age. To provide food and clothing for her six children, Klugman's mother made hats in her kitchen at night and sold them. The future actor contributed to the family income as well, buying various items from vendors and selling them in other neighborhoods for twice the price. Klugman later said having an impoverished childhood taught him lessons that privilege could never comprehend. However, gambling soon took hold of the young Klugman, and he found his life in danger, unable to pay his debt. He skipped town and enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University's drama program, beginning his legendary and successful acting career. Surprisingly, Klugman did not win fans with his acting skills right away. While attending school, his professor even advised the future TV star to give up acting and become a truck driver instead. Rather than giving up his new love, the actor honed his skills until he landed his stage debut in 1949 at the Equity Liberty Theater. He moved in with fellow actor Charles Bronson in New York City, NY, and worked several jobs and sometimes even sold his blood, just to make the rent.

Luck soon sided with Klugman once again, and he started landing work in the new medium of television. His sympathetic Everyman quality made him a compelling protagonist in shows like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (CBS, 1955-1962) and "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1971). In fact, Klugman tied with Burgess Meredith for the most appearances on the latter series. In 1962, the actor appeared in an episode of "The Defenders" (CBS, 1961-65) titled "Blacklist," a performance that won him his first Emmy Award. In 1954, Klugman appeared in a live broadcast of "The Petrified Forest" alongside Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda, which he described as the greatest thrill of his life. Three years later, he would act with Fonda again, in the classic Sidney Lumet film "Twelve Angry Men," (1957) as Juror No. 5.

Klugman's expressive mug was perfectly suited for the small screen, none more evident than in the role of Oscar Madison, the cigar-smoking slob of "The Odd Couple," based on the Neil Simon play and 1968 film that starred Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Audiences cheered him and co-star Randall, as they showed onscreen how two opposite personalities could have a friendship. The show was a hit for five years, earning Klugman two more Emmys, while his co-star collected one in 1975. Both actors were so believable and entertaining on the show that some even wondered if they really got along once the cameras stopped rolling. During Klugman's book tour for Tony and Me, he talked about how genuine their friendship was. "We got along very well," he said. "Except for the first couple days, we never had an argument within 50 years." It seemed that one hit show was not enough for the talented actor. He starred in "Quincy, M.E." for seven years - a dramatic change of pace for the actor, playing a crusading coroner who invariably became personally involved in investigating crimes. The show was reportedly inspired by Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi and became the forerunner of many shows to follow about forensic medicine - from "Law and Order" (NBC, 1990-2010) to "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ). Klugman wrote one episode in 1977 titled "A Good Smack in the Mouth."

In 1953, Klugman married Brett Somers, who was a regular on "Match Game" (CBS, 1973-1982). It was Klugman who first appeared on the game show, then asked the producers to give his wife a guest slot on the panel. Somers famously remained on the show until 1982. The couple also had two children: Adam and David, but they legally separated in 1974. Klugman later joked that he never divorced Somers, so he would not make the mistake of marrying again. He later met Peggy Crosby and had been living with her since 1988. Much like his TV alter ego Oscar, he was an avid horse racing fan. He owned many horses, including one named Jaklin Klugman, voted California Horse of the Year in 1980 after winning several races and finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. For years, Klugman had idolized actor John Garfield, and admitted he started smoking cigars to be just like him. The habit eventually took its toll on the actor's health, leading to him being diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in 1974. After minor surgeries and treatment, the TV star continued to work and landed another series titled "You Again?" (NBC, 1986-87). The sitcom, which co-starred a young John Stamos, was short-lived, but Klugman kept on working. He appeared on several TV specials and in movies like "Two Minute Warning" (1976), as well as returning to theater in "Gypsy," a role he originated on Broadway in 1959, and in touring productions of "The Odd Couple."

The actor's smoking continued as it always had, but he famously received another surgery in 1989 that left him without his right vocal cord and his ability to speak. Klugman proved to everyone not even cancer could stop him, eventually enduring chemotherapy, more surgery, and rehabilitation to help recover his voice. He eventually regained his speech and kept on working, with the help of Tony Randall. Klugman made a triumphant return to television in 1993, reprising his well-loved role of Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple: Together Again" for a CBS movie special. In fact, the actor was devastated when his co-star and good friend Randall was struck down before him with pneumonia following heart surgery in 2004. He went on to appear on various drama series such as "Diagnosis Murder" (CBS, 1993-2001) and "Crossing Jordan" (NBC, 2001-07). He also won multiple awards for championing speech loss, including the American Speech and Hearing Association's International Media Award. In 2005, Klugman wrote the book Tony and Me and also entered the blogosphere with his own site, Klugman's Korner. Following what turned out to be his final appearance on screen, "Camera Obscura" (2010), Klugman was convalescing in his Woodland Hills, CA home with family when he died suddenly of undisclosed causes on Dec. 24, 2012 at 90 years old. He was surrounded by his wife and children, and passed on the same day Hollywood lost fellow character actor Charles Durning.

By Marc Cuenco

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