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Jack Klugman, "Odd Couple" Actor, Dies At 90

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Jack Klugman, the prolific character actor who was known for his role as the messy half of TV's The Odd Couple and the crime-fighting coroner in Quincy, M.E. died in his Los Angeles home on Monday, his son said. The 90-year-old had been in declining health for the last year.

Beyond being arguably the most famous Oscar to take on the role of a slob with a penchent for gambling, cigars and women (opposite Tony Randall's Felix) Klugman was also the last surviving member of the original cast that played the jury in 12 Angry Men, the 1957 classic in which he memorably explained how to use a switchblade:

Other notable roles the actor played included Herbie opposite Ethel Merman in the original Broadway production of Gypsy (for which he got a 1960 Tony nomination) and the lead on Quincy, which ran from 1976 to 1983. But it was his role as Oscar in The Odd Couple that made him famous. He first played the role on Broadway in 1965 and then on TV from 1970 through 1975, winning Emmy awards in 1971 and 1973.

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Klugman, born April 22, 1922 in Philadelphia, had a curious path to the stage:

After a stint in the Army — he was discharged because of a kidney ailment — Mr. Klugman returned to Philadelphia but racked up a debt to loan sharks who were so dangerous that he left town. He landed in Pittsburgh, where he 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. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have taken me in.”

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. He roomed for a while with Charles Bronson, who introduced him to vigorous exercise.

In 1989 Klugman, a heavy smoker, underwent surgery for cancer of the larynx. Though he survived the removal of his right vocal cord left the actor, famous for his growl, initially unable to speak above a whisper. He did eventually return to acting in 1991, thanks to lots of vocal work and support from Randall.

Klugman is survived by two sons, his longtime partner Peggy (he separated from, but never divorced, the late Brett Somers in 1974) and two grandchildren.