Kumar Pallana, AKA Pagoda from Royal Tenenbaums, dead at 94

Kumar Pallana, a man best known to us as Royal Tenenbaum’s faithful manservant Pagoda and the safe-cracking Kumar in Bottle Rocket, has died at the age of 94. The New York Times doesn’t list a cause of death, but I think we all know he was stabbed in the belly by a rival assassin. Eli Cash reads the eulogy or GTFO.

Pallana died on Thursday at his home in Oakland, Calif. He was 94. His son, Dipak, confirmed the death.

As is the case with most character actors, it turns out there was a lot more to Pallana’s life than what we knew – which mostly consisted of deadpan (and amazing) line reads like “oh shit, man” and “I lost my touch, man.”  Pallana was “discovered” by Wes Anderson as a yoga instructor in Dallas, but before that he’d been an acrobat in Calcutta, toured through Africa, emigrated to America after World War II, and started up a Vaudeville act. Who even knows what kind of freaky sex he was having along the way.

Mr. Pallana, who had lived in the United States since the 1940s, was first seen on screen as an extra in American westerns of the early 1950s, playing, as he later described it, “a different sort of Indian.”

He also spent decades on the vaudeville circuit as Kumar of India, spinning plates (as many as 16 at a time, some of them on sticks) and performing feats of dexterity that included plucking a handkerchief off the ground with his teeth while riding a bicycle.

The man could unhook a bra strap while swinging on the trapeze!

He played Las Vegas, where his shows were attended by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Belafonte. In the 1950s and ’60s, he performed on television shows, including “Captain Kangaroo” and “The Mickey Mouse Club,” before repairing to Dallas and a life of teaching yoga.

There, three decades later, Mr. Pallana was discovered by Mr. Anderson and Owen Wilson, not long out of college and collaborating on the screenplay of their first film, “Bottle Rocket.”

“He had a certain wise serenity and tremendous charisma,” Mr. Anderson wrote in an e-mail message to The Times on Monday. “But he was also inclined to do rope tricks and laugh wildly, hysterically, at extreme length. And like everybody else, we just loved him instantly. We had never met anyone even remotely like him in any respect.” [NYT]

I could live to 150 and still not have as good an obituary as good as this guy. “Well, from 2012 to 2078 he mostly sat around watching HBO Go and eating takeout, and it was downhill from there.”

It sucks that guys like this have to die before most of us realize how awesome they were. Ideally, we should all fake our own deaths once or twice before we go out for real.

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