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By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Emmy-winning actor Jack Klugman, a versatile, raspy-voiced mainstay of U.S. television during the 1970s and early ‘80s through his starring roles in “The Odd Couple” and “Quincy, M.E.,” died on Monday at the age of 90.
Klugman, whose pairing with Tony Randall on “The Odd Couple” created one of television’s most memorable duos, died at his home in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles following a period of declining health, according to his son, Adam Klugman.
“He went very suddenly and peacefully ... he was there one minute and gone the next,” the actor’s son told Reuters, adding that the elder Klugman had “been in convalescent mode for awhile.”
He said his father had lost his ability to walk and spent much of his time in bed. His wife of four and a half years, Peggy Crosby, former daughter-in-law of the late singer Bing Crosby, was with him when he died, his son said.
In addition to his TV success, Klugman enjoyed a healthy career on the stage as well as in movies and made successful forays into horse breeding and political activism. Not even the loss of a vocal cord to cancer in 1989 could silence him for long.
Klugman gained fame for playing slovenly sports writer Oscar Madison in the sitcom “The Odd Couple” - a role he also had played on Broadway - and then as a crusading coroner in the crime drama “Quincy, M.E.”
“The Odd Couple,” based on Neil Simon’s play about two disparate divorced men forced to share an apartment, ran for five years on the ABC network, starting in 1970, but was never a hit during that time. Only through reruns did Klugman and co-star Randall, who played neat-freak Felix Unger, leave their mark as one of U.S. television’s great sitcom teams.
“We had wonderful respect for one another, we liked working together but we never became friends,” Klugman told the Miami Herald in 2005. “I think that was on account of me. I was withdrawn. I never let anybody get too close.”
It was not until Klugman’s cancer surgery, following years of heavy smoking and throat problems, that a friendship developed with Randall. Klugman had no voice and was glumly resigned to the end of his acting career, but with Randall’s encouragement, he returned to the stage.
They resurrected their “Odd Couple” roles in a 1993 TV movie, and Klugman paid tribute to Randall, who died in 2004, in the memoir “Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship.”
“Quincy, M.E.,” which ran on NBC from 1976 to 1983, saw Klugman assume a heavy behind-the-scenes role. He recalled that he spent 20 hours a day working on the series, and he twice sued its producer, Universal Studios, for a share of the net profits he claimed were owed to him.
Horses were perhaps Klugman’s first love - both as a keen gambler starting in his teens and later as a breeder. One of his horses, Jaklin Klugman, finished third in the 1980 Kentucky Derby and earned millions as a stud.
Born Jacob Joachim Klugman on April 27, 1922, he grew up in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood. In 1945 a loan shark was after him due to gambling losses so he fled to Pittsburgh, where he studied drama at Carnegie Tech and worked several jobs to settle his debts.
Two years later in New York, Klugman appeared opposite Henry Fonda in the national stage production of “Mr. Roberts.” In 1960, Klugman received a Tony nomination for his supporting role in the musical “Gypsy.”
In Hollywood, Klugman had notable supporting roles in such films as “12 Angry Men” (1957), “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962) and “Goodbye, Columbus” (1969).
He won the first of three Emmys in 1964 for an appearance on the legal drama “The Defenders.” Klugman and Randall each received Emmy nominations for each of the “Odd Couple” seasons, with Klugman winning in 1971 and 1973 and Randall in 1975.
Klugman also earned four Emmy nominations for NBC’s “Quincy, M.E.” His character, who stepped out of his role as medical examiner to solve murders that flummoxed the Los Angeles police, never had a first name.
Klugman is survived by Crosby, his second wife, whom he married in 2008 after a 20-year courtship; and two sons, Adam and David, from his first marriage to late “Match Game” panelist Brett Somers. Klugman and Somers were separated for more than 30 years of their 54-year marriage, which ended with her death in 2007. (Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; additional reporting and writing by Dean Goodman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Simao)