Jack Klugman, star of The Odd Couple and Quincy M.E., passed away on Monday at age 90. He was probably best known for his work opposite Tony Randall on Odd Couple as messy, slobbish sportswriter Oscar Madison, a role that earned him two Emmys, and should be remembered lovingly by the hoards of be-sweatpanted entertainment bloggers covering this news while surrounded by day-old McDonald’s wrappers that have since been repurposed as napkins and coasters. In addition to his extensive work on television, Klugman also appeared as one of the jurors in the eminently rewatchable 1957 film 12 Angry Men, which I highly recommend checking out over the holidays if you still haven’t seen it.
Also passing away on Monday was veteran character actor Charles Durning, who was 89. While his name may not be as recognizable as Klugman’s, his face definitely was. Durning appeared in everything over his lengthy career, from films like The Sting and The Hudsucker Proxy, to televisions programs like Evening Shade, Everybody Loves Raymond, and, more recently, FX’s firehouse drama Rescue Me, where he played Denis Leary’s father.
Durning was also a highly decorated veteran, which this passage from his obituary in the New York Times illustrates particularly well:
Then came World War II, and he enlisted in the Army. His combat experiences were harrowing. He was in the first wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day and his unit’s lone survivor of a machine-gun ambush. In Belgium he was stabbed in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier, whom he bludgeoned to death with a rock. Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, he and the rest of his company were captured and forced to march through a pine forest at Malmedy, the scene of an infamous massacre in which the Germans opened fire on almost 90 prisoners. Mr. Durning was among the few to escape.
By the war’s end he had been awarded a Silver Star for valor and three Purple Hearts, having suffered gunshot and shrapnel wounds as well. He spent months in hospitals and was treated for psychological trauma. [NY Times]
I don’t want to gloss over the psychological trauma, which the obit goes on to say haunted him for years, or make light of the passing of a great, if often-overlooked actor, but I would like to point out that we are quickly running out of actors — and people, in general — whose obituaries will include factoids like “once beat a Nazi to death with a rock.” I think that’s important.
Rest in peace.