Jack Klugman, Half Of 'The Odd Couple' Dies At 90

Emmy-award winning actor Jack Klugman died Monday. Klugman enjoyed a long acting career but is best known for his roles in The Odd Couple and Quincy, M.E.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Actor Jack Klugman has died at the age of 90. He is best known as the slovenly sportswriter Oscar on the 1970's hit TV series, "The Odd Couple."

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC)

GREENE: In addition to that role, Klugman had a long and varied career on stage, screen and TV. NPR's Ina Jaffe has this remembrance.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Klugman once said that people often thought he was Oscar, the sloppy, poker-playing, cigar-smoking guy he played on the Odd Couple. He said they seemed disappointed when they found out he wasn't actually like that. But Klugman had that regular guy quality that appealed to audiences for decades. He began acting when he got out of the Army in 1945. In 1952, he made his Broadway debut in the revival of "Golden Boy." A few years later, he received a Tony nomination for playing Herbie in the musical "Gypsy," opposite Ethel Merman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GYPSY")

JACK KLUGMAN: (as Herbie) (Singing) Rose, I love you, but don't count your chickens.

ETHEL MERMAN: (as Rose) (Singing) Come dance with me.

JAFFE: Klugman began his TV career in the golden age of television drama. In 1955, he appeared in a live TV version of "Petrified Forest" with Humphrey Bogart. He was also on several episodes of the "Twilight Zone." On the big screen, he was Juror Number 5 in "12 Angry Men" with Henry Fonda, and in "The Days of Wine and Roses" with Jack Lemmon.

In a 2006 interview, Klugman told NPR's Susan Stamberg that he realized he'd worked with a Who's Who of TV and Film Stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

KLUGMAN: Somebody said write down the list of the stars that you've worked with. So I wrote them down. Even I was impressed, I mean Bogart and Garfield and Cobb and Henry Fonda.

JAFFE: But the actor he was associated with most was Tony Randall, the other half of "The Odd Couple," who played his fastidious roommate, Felix.

(SOUNDBITE OF SERIES, "THE ODD COUPLE")

TONY RANDALL: (as Felix) Open it. What color do you see in there?

KLUGMAN: (as Oscar) Black.

RANDALL: (as Felix) What do you think that is?

KLUGMAN: (as Oscar) Well, it looks like some sort of black meat to me.

RANDALL: (as Felix) This is the rump roast I prepared for your dinner. It was ready an hour and a half ago.

KLUGMAN: (as Oscar) I'm sorry, Felix. But the hockey championship games went into double overtime.

RANDALL: (as Felix) If you knew you were going to be late, why didn't you call me?

KLUGMAN: (as Oscar) Well, I'm sorry, Felix. I meant to call you. But the game got so exciting. I didn't know what to do.

RANDALL: (as Felix) This is a six dollar rump roast lying here dead.

JAFFE: Klugman told NPR that he and Randall were good friends, but hadn't socialized much outside of work. Then, in 1980s, Klugman had surgery for throat cancer and one of his vocal cords was cut. He lost his voice for a time. Randall came through.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

KLUGMAN: When one gets ill, either a relationship moves up a notch or it dissolves. And when I got ill, it moved up a notch. He was the first one there and he just devoted himself. I guess he knew how I felt being an actor without a voice.

JAFFE: In the 1970s, Klugman followed his success in "The Odd Couple" with another TV hit, "Quincy M.E," which ran until 1983. He played a crusading medical examiner in a series that was the forerunner to today's "CSI's." But Klugman said he didn't just want the show to be about solving mysteries, but about shining a spotlight on social issues - as in this episode about child abuse.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "QUINCY M.E.")

KLUGMAN: (as Quincy) I want you to tell me how you got that black eye. I know you didn't get it in the accident. It was your mother, wasn't it? I know it's tough when you're afraid.

JAFFE: When Klugman regained his voice, he went back to work. He appeared in a 1993 stage revival of "Three Men on a Horse." The Associated Press review said: His voice may be a little scratchy, but his timing is as impeccable as ever.

Klugman is survived by two sons from his marriage to the late actress Brett Somers and his second wife, Peggy Crosby.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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