Oscar Madison Dies on Christmas Eve 2012 · 12/28/2012

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Jacob Joachim Klugman, better known as the actor Jack Klugman who was famous for ‘The Odd Couple’ and ‘Quincy, ME,’ sadly died on Christmas Eve 2012 aged 90. In news reports, his son, Adam, said that he had been ill for some time. He had, however, over his acting career, managed to survive cancer of the larynx. After it was diagnosed in 1974, an operation in 1989 removed the cancer, but left him without a voice for some time. Fortunately, it returned, enabling him to continue a glittering acting career. He leaves behind his wife, Peggy, whom he married in 2008, and two sons from his first marriage with Brett Somers.

Jack Klugman’s early years were unprepossessing. Born 27 April 1922 to Russian Jewish parents, his father died young and left his mother to bring up the family as best she could. Jack joined the military for the duration of the Second World War, after which he went to the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he studied acting. His teacher didn’t think he would ever make it as an actor, but he persevered and started to take on small roles. His Broadway debut came in 1952, after which he worked his way into television and film. His first memorable role came in 1957 when he was cast as one of the jurors in Sidney Lumet’s ‘Twelve Angry Men.’

More success was to follow when he won a role starring opposite Ethel Merman in the Broadway production of ‘Gypsy.’ Soon after, he won the role of Oscar Madison in the stage version of ‘The Odd Couple,’ a play about two men forced to live together because of circumstances. One is very neat, whereas Oscar is extremely sloppy and untidy, leading to some humorous goings-on. Partially because of this role, Klugman was eventually chosen to star opposite Tony Randall in the television version of ‘The Odd Couple.’ He wasn’t Randall’s choice for the role, according to the LA Times, because Randall wanted Mickey Rooney, but the show’s producer pushed for Klugman and eventually won out.

When ‘The Odd Couple’ ended in 1975, Klugman took on another television role as the titular character in ‘Quincy, ME,’ a drama about a medical examiner who has the knack of solving murders that nobody else can. However, his reasons for taking on the role were two-fold; he recognised that it was a great script and character, but he also saw the advantages of using the show to promote particular issues. Klugman’s brother, Maurice, suffered from a rare form of cancer and together, the brothers campaigned for Congress to pass the Orphan Drug Act of 1982, which aimed to persuade drugs companies to develop treatments for rare diseases, something that wouldn’t bring in a lot of profit. The Klugmans wrote two Quincy episodes that concentrated on the Act, thereby bringing it to the attention of the general public and media in a way that formerly hadn’t been possible.

Although Klugman continued his acting career after ‘Quincy, ME’ with performances on the stage, the last few years of his life were spent relatively quietly. Nevertheless, his legacy, both in the world of acting and politics, will shine bright for many years yet to come.


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