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Alan Arkin, Oscar-Winning Star of Little Miss Sunshine, Argo, and The Kominsky Method, Dies at 89

Alan Arkin, who won an Oscar for his supporting turn in Little Miss Sunshine and was nominated for six Emmys over the course of his seven-decade career, died on June 29 at his home in Carlsbad, California. He was 89.

Born in Brooklyn on March 26, 1934, Alan Wolf Arkin moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 12, and almost immediately began taking acting classes. He attended Los Angeles City College for two years followed by a year at Bennington College, though he dropped out to form a folk music group called the Tarriers, in which he was the lead singer.

In 1955, he recorded an album for Elektra, and in 1956, he and other members of the Tarriers wrote a version of the Jamaican calypso folk song “The Banana Boat Song” that was a big hit in 1956. The following year, he and the Tarriers appeared in the movie Calypso Heat Wave, though they went uncredited.

A year after that, Arkin made his Off-Broadway debut as a singer in Heloise, and after joining the Compass Theatre in St. Louis, he caught the eye of stage director Bob Sills, which led to Arkin becoming an original member of Chicago’s Second City troupe. By 1963, he had already won a Tony, and a few years later he began directing stage plays, including the original production of Neil Simon’s comedy The Sunshine Boys on Broadway, and the Off-Broadway play titled Eh? that marked the acting debut of Dustin Hoffman.

Arkin soon transitioned to the big screen, earning an Oscar nomination for his very first credited feature — The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, a Cold War comedy in which he played the leader of a Russian scout party. He earned his second Oscar nomination three years later for his lead role as a deaf-mute in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. In between those two films, he played the title character in 1968’s Inspector Clouseau and terrorized Audrey Hepburn in the thriller Wait Until Dark, which remains my favorite performance of his.

Arkin made his debut as a movie director with the 1971 satire Little Murders starring Elliot Gould, and he followed that up with the 1977 comedy Fire Sale, in which he starred alongside Rob Reiner. Two years later, he starred opposite Peter Falk in the hit comedy The In-Laws, which he also executive produced.

Arkin’s career experienced a resurgence in the early ’90s, when he co-starred in Tim Burton‘s Edward Scissorhands and the feature adaptation of David Mamet‘s macho play Glengarry Glen Ross, two movies that still resonate to this day. He also appeared in the cult favorite The Rocketeer, the modern sci-fi classic Gattaca, and the beloved ’90s comedies Grosse Pointe Blank and Slums of Beverly Hills.

Then came Little Miss Sunshine, in which he played Abigail Breslin‘s wise-cracking grandfather. The film was a major awards player, and five years later, so was Ben Affleck‘s Argo, in which he played a rather hilarious movie producer. That role brought him a fourth Oscar nomination.

More recently, Arkin earned two Emmy nominations for his supporting turn in Chuck Lorre‘s Netflix dramedy The Kominsky Method, which paired him with Michael Douglas.

Arkin was married three times, and his sons — Adam, Matthew, and Anthony, all of whom became actors — issued a joint statement about their father: “Our father was a uniquely talented force of nature, both as an artist and a man. A loving husband, father, grand and great grandfather, he was adored and will be deeply missed.”

In addition to his three sons, Arkin is survived by his third wife, Suzanne Newlander Arkin, whom he married in 1999. He was previously married to Jeremy Yaffe and actress Barbara Dana. He will be sorely missed. R.I.P.



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