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Jack Klugman

Actor;

Born: April 27, 1922; Died: December 24, 2012.

JACK Klugman, who has died suddenly aged 90, was the prolific, craggy-faced character actor and regular guy who was loved by millions as the messy one in TV's The Odd Couple and the crime-fighting coroner in Quincy, M.E.

Klugman lost his voice to throat cancer in the 1980s and trained himself to speak again.

Never anyone's idea of a matinee idol, Klugman remained a popular star for decades simply by playing a gruff but down-to-earth guy, his tie stained and a little loose, a cigar in hand during the days when smoking was permitted.

He was a city actor ideal for The Odd Couple, which ran from 1970 to 1975 and was based on Neil Simon's play about mismatched roommates, divorced New Yorkers who end up living together.

The show teamed Klugman – the sloppy sports writer Oscar Madison – and Tony Randall – fussy photographer Felix Unger – in the roles played by Walter Matthau and Art Carney on Broadway and Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the 1968 film.

Klugman had already had a taste of the show when he replaced Matthau on Broadway, and he learned to roll with the quick-thinking Randall.

"There's nobody better to improvise with than Tony," Klugman said. "A script might say, 'Oscar teaches Felix football'. There would be four blank pages. He would provoke me into reacting to what he did. Mine was the easy part."

They were the best of friends in real life. When Randall died in 2004 aged 84, Klugman told CNN: "A world without Tony Randall is a world that I cannot recognise."

In Quincy, M.E., which ran from 1976 to 1983, Klugman played an idealistic, tough-minded medical examiner who tussled with his boss by uncovering evidence of murder where others saw natural causes. "Everybody said, 'Quincy'll never be a hit.' I said, 'You guys are wrong. He's two heroes in one, a cop and a doctor,"' he said in an interview.

For his 1987 role as 81-year-old Nat in the Broadway production of I'm Not Rappaport, Klugman wore leg weights to learn to shuffle like an elderly man. He would wear them before each performance, "to remember to keep that shuffle". "The guy is so vital emotionally, but physically he can't be," he said. "We treat old people so badly. There is nothing easy about 80."

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he was born in Philadelphia and began acting in college drama. He made his Broadway debut in 1952 in a revival of Golden Boy. Film credits included Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men and Blake Edwards' Days of Wine and Roses, and an early television highlight was appearing with Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda in The Petrified Forest.

His performance in the classic 1959 musical Gypsy brought him a Tony nomination for best featured (supporting) actor in a musical.

Throat cancer took away his raspy voice for several years in the 1980s. When he was back on stage for a 1993 revival of Three Men on a Horse, a review said: "His voice may be a little scratchy but his timing is as impeccable as ever."

"The only really stupid thing I ever did in my life was to start smoking," he said in 1996. Seeing people smoking in films and on TV, he added, "disgusts me, it makes me so angry – kids are watching".

Klugman's wife, actress-comedian Brett Somers, played his ex-wife, Blanche, in the Odd Couple series. The couple, who married in 1953 and had two sons, Adam and David, had been estranged for years at the time of her death in 2007.

In February 2008, aged 85, Klugman married long-time girlfriend Peggy Crosby. His lawyer Larry Larson wrote said Klugman is also survived by two grandchildren.

In 1997, Klugman was sued by an ex-girlfriend, Barbara Neugass, who claimed he had promised to support her for the rest of her life. But a jury rejected her claim.

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