For many, Jack Klugman will always be the messy one.
His portrayal of sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison on TV’s The Odd Couple left viewers laughing, but it also gave Klugman the leverage to create a more serious character, the gruff medical examiner in Quincy M.E. His everyman ethos and comic timing endeared him to audiences and led to a prolific, six-decade acting career that spanned stage, screen and television.
Klugman died on Monday at age 90 in suburban Northridge with his wife at his side. His sons called on his fans to embrace their father’s tenacious and positive spirit.
“He had a great life and he enjoyed every moment of it, and he would encourage others to do the same,” son Adam Klugman said.
The cause of Klugman’s death was not immediately known. Adam Klugman said his father had been slowing down in recent years, but was not battling cancer, which robbed him of his voice in the 1980s. Klugman taught himself to speak again, and kept working.
Despite his on-screen wars with Tony Randall’s neat-freak character Felix Unger on Odd Couple, the show created a friendship between the men that endured after the series ended.
When Randall died in 2004 at age 84, Klugman told CNN: “A world without Tony Randall is a world that I cannot recognize.”
The Odd Couple, which ran from 1970 to 1975, was based on Neil Simon’s play about mismatched roommates — divorced New Yorkers who end up living together. The comedy came from their opposite personalities — Klugman playing a writer whose sloppiness consistently irritated Randall’s fussy photographer character. The pairing was so good, the show did not need constant help from the writers.
“There’s nobody better to improvise with than Tony,” Klugman said. “A script might say, ‘Oscar teaches Felix football.’ There would be four blank pages. He would provoke me into reacting to what he did. Mine was the easy part.”
In Quincy, M.E., which ran from 1976 to 1983, Klugman played an idealistic, tough-minded medical examiner who tussled with his boss by uncovering evidence of murder in cases where others saw natural causes.
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Klugman was born in Philadelphia and began acting in college at Carnegie Institute of Technology. After serving in the Army during World War II, he went on to summer stock and off-Broadway, rooming with fellow actor Charles Bronson as both looked for paying jobs.
His film credits included Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and Blake Edwards’ Days of Wine and Roses.