LOS ANGELES (AP) – Alan Arkin, the witty character actor who demonstrated his versatility in comedy and drama by receiving four Academy Award nominations and winning an Oscar in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine,” has died. He was 89 years old.
His sons Adam, Matthew and Anthony confirmed their father’s death through the actor’s publicist on Friday. “Our father was a uniquely gifted force of nature, both as an artist and a person,” they said in a statement.
A member of Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe, Arkin found immediate success in films with the Cold War spoof “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” and after his win as Best Supporting Actor for the 2006 surprise hit Together they reached the final peak in life. “little Miss Sunshine.” His first Oscar nomination for “The Russians Are Coming” is separated by more than 40 years from his nomination for playing a sly Hollywood producer in the Oscar-winning “Argo.”
In recent years he starred opposite Michael Douglas in the Netflix comedy series “The Kominsky Method”, a role for which he received two Emmy nominations.
Arkin once joked to The Associated Press that the beauty of being a character actor is not in taking off your clothes for a role. He was no sex symbol or superstar, but was rarely out of work, appearing in over 100 TV and feature films. His trademarks were plausibility, relatability and complete engrossment in his roles, no matter how unusual, whether it was playing a Russian submarine officer in “The Russians Are Coming” who struggles to communicate with equally irritable Americans. Struggles for, or standing up to, the foul-mouthed, drug-addicted grandfather in “Little Miss Sunshine”.
“The Russians Are Coming” director Norman Jewison once said, “Allen never had a recognizable screen personality because he disappeared into his characters.” “His accent is impeccable, and he is able to change his look as well. … He has always been underestimated, partly because he has never been in the service of his own success.
While with Second City, Arkin was selected by Carl Reiner to play the young protagonist in “Enter Laughing”, a 1963 Broadway play based on Reiner’s semi-autobiographical novel.
They garnered rave reviews and the attention of Jewison, who was preparing to direct a 1966 comedy about a Russian sub who panics when it gets too close to a small New England town. In Arkin’s next major film, he proved that he could also play a villain, albeit reluctantly. Arkin starred in “Wait Until Dark” as a vicious drug dealer who holds a blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) captive in her own apartment, believing a drug shipment is hidden there.
He recalled in a 1998 interview how difficult it was to terrorize Hepburn’s character.
“Terrible,” he said. “She was an outstanding woman, so it was hard to treat her badly.”
1968’s “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”, in which he played a sentient man who could not hear or speak, again elevated Arkin’s status in Hollywood. He played the bumbling French detective in “Inspector Clouseau” that same year, but the film was overlooked in favor of Peter Sellers’ Clouseau in the “Pink Panther” films.
Arkin’s career as a character actor flourished when fellow Second City alumnus Mike Nichols hired him to play Rosarian, a victim of wartime red tape, in 1970’s “Catch-22”, based on Joseph Heller’s million-selling novel. Took the lead role. , Through the years, Arkin appeared in such favorites as “Edward Scissorhands,” playing Johnny Depp’s neighbor; and as a headstrong real estate salesman in the film version of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross”. He and Rainer played brothers in the 1998 film “The Slums of Beverly Hills”, one successful (Rainer), one struggling (Arkin).
“I used to think that I have a lot of variety in my stuff. But I realized that for the first twenty years, most of the characters I played were outsiders, strangers to their surroundings, foreign in some way,” he told The Associated Press in 2007.
“As I started getting more comfortable with myself, it started to change. A few days ago I got one of the best compliments I have ever received from someone. He said that he feels that my characters are often the heart, the moral center of a film. I didn’t particularly understand it, but I liked it; it made me happy.”
Other recent credits include “Going in Style,” a 2017 remake starring fellow Oscar winners Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and the TV series “The Kominsky Method.”
Arkin also directed the film versions of Jules Pfeiffer’s 1971 dark comedy “Little Murders” and Neil Simon’s 1972 drama based on the feud of old vaudeville partners “The Sunshine Boys”. On television, Arkin appeared in the short-lived series “Faye” and “Harry” and played a night court judge on Sidney Lumet’s drama series “100 Center Street” on A&E. He also wrote several books for children.
Born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, he and his family, which included two younger brothers, moved to Los Angeles at the age of 11. His parents got jobs as teachers, but were fired after World War II because of the Red Scare. were communists.
He told the AP in 1998, “We were very poor, so I couldn’t go to the movies again and again.” ,
He studied acting at Los Angeles City College; California State University, Los Angeles; and Bennington College in Vermont, where she earned a scholarship to the formerly all-girls school.
She married a fellow student, Jeremy Yaffe, and they had two sons, Adam and Matthew.
After he and Yaffe divorced in 1961, Arkin married actress-writer Barbara Dana, and they had a son, Anthony. All three sons became actors: Adam starred in the TV series “Chicago Hope”.
Arkin said in 1998, “It certainly wasn’t anything I pushed him into. It didn’t matter to me what he did, as long as it gave him an opportunity to grow.”
Arkin began his entertainment career as an organist and singer with The Terriers, a group that briefly rode the wave of the folk music revival of the late 1950s. Later, he turned to stage acting, off-Broadway and always dramatic roles.
At Second City, he worked with Nichols, Elaine May, Jerry Stiller, Anne Mira, and others to debunk the fads and idiosyncrasies of the day in intellectual, high-speed improvised ways.
He said, “I never knew I could be funny until I joined Second City.”