Jack Klugman, the irrepressible character actor best remembered as the craggy, charismatically unkempt, skirt-chasing and reckless sportswriter Oscar Madison in the television adaptation of the Broadway play and theatrical film The Odd Couple, has died at the age of 90, reports the Associated Press. The cause of death is yet to be determined, but his son Adam said he had died suddenly.
Klugman’s portrayal of Oscar Madison in the The Odd Couple from 1970 to 1975 on ABC television (winning two Emmy awards) in which he pretty much morphed himself into the character with such aplomb that everything he did after it and his public persona became more associated with the character of Oscar than Jack the man. Klugman has many traits ala Oscar, he loved to gamble, he was also a gregarious low rent playboy in the coolest sense of the word. It was the likeable, everyman man-about-town style he parlayed into the role that made it so memorable. Playing against the late Tony Randall’s neat freak and neurotic Felix Unger, the two men created a television program that while may not have been a success in its original run, soon found its voice and influence in the syndicated reruns market and became one of the most loved television sitcoms of all time, especially in big city markets, where sometimes the program was rerun three times a day. The two men also created a classic comedy team, ala Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on their television appearances on The Colgate Comedy Hour in the 1950s.
As Oscar and Felix on The Odd Couple Klugman and Randall found themselves in all types of situations, buying a car, trying a scheme to make money, going on vacation, to lose weight in a fat farm, not being able to speak while in a monastery serving penance, on the game show Password or Let’s Make A Deal, hobnobbing with legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell, taking care of ghosts in an air conditioner, buying a Japanese restaurant, and saving each other’s life and much more, to hilarious, classic, and usually disastrously comedic results. The genius comic timing and styles of Randall and Klugman made it so, under more inexperienced actors, the show might have never had a life at all.
Klugman was also a solid, reliable utility dramatic actor before he donned the Oscar Madison cigar, Mets cap, and dirty sweatshirt. He had appeared in heavyweight Hollywood productions as Twelve Angry Men and Days of Wine and Roses. He also did a lot of television work, memorable appearances on the original version of The Twilight Zone and even game shows like Match Game (in which he sometimes appeared with his former wife, panelist and sometimes actress Brett Somers) and Password Plus. Another role which brought him further fame in the 1970s was as the Medical Examiner Quincy, who investigated various crimes and murders ala Columbo, who also only used his last name as the titular character.
But it was The Odd Couple that became his professional and public eye bread and butter ever since the show became a national phenomenon. There were plenty of reunions with Tony Randall in the 1980s and 1990s, he did a stage version of The Odd Couple Broadway version (which had been written by playwright Neil Simon) with Randall for charity, did a few commercials in which they played either themselves or Felix and Oscar, did a reunion movie, which although by that point Klugman had throat cancer which left his voice a raspy, hoary whisper, was still successful and the characterizations of the two now ageing men, were still a joy to watch.
So farewell to Jack Klugman, a great shining beacon of a comedic and dramatic actor, and who still delights and give fans serious belly aches with laughter across the country as Oscar Madison. Although there have been others in the role, Klugman’s take on the character remains the quintessential one; the serendipitous manner in which he sloppily glided through life, uninhibited, flawed yet flawless, a character for all the eternity and history of great television. In Klugman’s passing, it now marks Oscar and Felix together again and now, truly immortalized.
RIP Jack, thanks for all the wonderful laughs.