Perhaps few people were as unlikely as Jack to escape an impoverished childhood to begin a legendary and successful acting career. To help his widowed mother provide food and clothing for her six children, he contributed to the family coffers by buying a variety of items from vendors, then selling them in other neighborhoods for twice the money.
His family’s need for money may have led the future actor into the dark world of gambling. It is there he found his life in danger due to his inability to pay his debts. As a result, he skipped town and enrolled in the drama program at Carnegie Mellon University.
Jack Klugman was not an immediate hit with fans. In fact, one of his professors even advised him to give up acting and become a truck driver. Instead of giving up his dream, Klugman continued to improve his skills until he landed his stage debut at the Equity Liberty Theater in 1949. He shared lodging with actor Charles Bronson, working several jobs to support himself. Sometimes he even sold his blood to make the rent.
Klugman soon became known for a sympathetic Everyman quality. This made him a compelling protagonist in shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. In 1962, Jack won his first Emmy Award in an episode of The Defenders titled Blacklist.
In 1954, Klugman appeared alongside Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda in a live broadcast of The Petrified Forest. In 1957, he was to act with Fonda again, in the classic Sidney Lumet film, Twelve Angry Men. He portrayed Juror Number 5.
Klugman was likely best known for the role of Oscar Madison, the cigar-smoking slob of The Odd Couple, on which he won two additional Emmys. He and his co-star, Tony Randall, portrayed two personalities about as opposite as could be while still maintaining a friendship. Although the show only ran five years, Klugman and Randall remained friends for 50 years. At Randall’s passing, Klugman is reported to have said:
Tony Randall is the best friend a man could ever have. I loved him dearly, He was a gentleman in every sense of the word. I will miss him for the rest of my days.
After The Odd Couple, Klugman starred in Quincy, M.E. for seven years. This was quite a dramatic change of pace for the actor – from a slob to a crusading coroner who invariably became personally involved in investigating crimes. Klugman had this to say about this show:
We were the first CSI. All these other shows just took what we did and made it bloodier and sexier. Our show was actually about something, we had a message and a moral. You can’t compare gold to tin foil. I was a one man CSI.
Klugman married Brett Somers in 1953. They had two children, Adam and David. The couple legally separated in 1974 but never divorced. In 1988, Jack began living with Peggy Crosby. He married her in 2008, not quite five months after the death of his first wife, Brett.
Klugman was an horce racing fan. He owned many horses, including Jaklin Klugman, the California Horse of the Year and third place finisher of the Kentucky Derby in 1980.
Like Oscar, Jack smoked cigars most of his acting career. He was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx in 1974. He continued to smoke which led to surgery in 1989 leaving him without his right vocal cord and his ability to speak. He eventually went through more surgery, chemotherapy and rehabilitation to help recover his voice.
Sadly, Jack Klugman died Monday afternoon, December 24, 2012. Jack’s son, Adam, made the announcement. No cause of death was mentioned.
Jack, we salute you for 70 years of humor, insight and humanity throughout your acting career. You will be sorely missed.