David F. Smith Associated Press file, 1973 Character actor Jack Klugman grips the Emmy he won in 1973 for his role as the messy Oscar in television's "The Odd Couple."

Jack Klugman starred in TV's 'Odd Couple'

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4B

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 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 neighborhood in Philadelphia, wasn't a subtle performer. His features were large and mobile; his voice was a deep, earnest, rough-hewn 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.

Opposite Mr. Klugman's Oscar, a 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 Walter Matthau in the role 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. 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 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 comedy, and although it is not remembered as fondly, its initial run, from 1976 to 1983, was far more successful.

Mr. Klugman was born in Philadelphia on April 27, 1922, the youngest of six children of immigrants from Russia.

After a stint in the Army, Mr. Klugman 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.

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.

After his vocal cord surgery in 1989, Mr. Klugman planned to raise racehorses, a longtime side pursuit. But with therapy he regained his voice and returned to the stage, appearing with Randall in a benefit performance of "The Odd Couple" in 1991.

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