May 18, 2004 by

Tony Randall

8 comments

Categories: Actors, Hollywood

trandall.jpgTony Randall, the Emmy Award-winning actor best known for playing one-half of TV’s “The Odd Couple,” died on May 17 of complications from a long illness. He was 84.
Born Leonard Rosenberg in Tulsa, Okla., Randall attended Northwestern University in Chicago then moved to New York City to study drama at Columbia University and the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. At 19, he made his stage debut in “The Circle of Chalk.” It would mark the beginning of a successful six-decade career on stage and screen.
After serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II, Randall returned to New York to perform in bit parts on radio soap operas and early television shows. He launched his movie career in the late 1950s, playing “best friend” parts in several Rock Hudson-Doris Day movies.
Randall became a household name in 1970, playing the fastidious Felix Unger opposite slob roommate Oscar Madison (played by Jack Klugman) on “The Odd Couple.” Based on the Neil Simon play and movie of the same name, the ABC sitcom aired for five seasons in primetime and more than two decades in syndication. Randall received five Emmy nominations, and won the award for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 1975 — just after the show’s original run was canceled.
Randall next played the lead in two short-lived sitcoms, “The Tony Randall Show” and “Love, Sidney.” He hosted the PBS opera series, “Live From the Met,” and took supporting roles in more than a dozen movies, including “It Had to Be You,” “Fatal Instinct” and “Down With Love.” Randall was a fixture on David Letterman’s talk shows, appearing more than 70 times. When Letterman vacated his NBC timeslot in 1993, Randall was a guest on the debut of its replacement, “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” For his many contributions to the entertainment industry, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998.
In recent years, Randall returned to his theatre roots. He put up $1 million of his own money to found the National Actors Theatre in 1991. The company’s first production was a revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” starring Martin Sheen and Michael York. Randall reunited with Klugman in the NAT production of “Three Men on a Horse” and in an eight-week national tour of “The Odd Couple.” He also starred in the company’s Tony Award-winning staging of “M. Butterfly.”
Randall was married to his college sweetheart, Florence Gibbs, for 54 years until she died of cancer in 1992. Three years later, he married actress Heather Harlan, who was 50 years his junior. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani performed the ceremony. At the age of 77, Randall became a father for the first time. Julia Laurette Randall was born in 1997 and Jefferson Salvini Randall arrived in 1998.
Last year, while speaking before the National Funeral Directors Association, Randall said his fantasy send-off would involve President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney showing up to pay their respects and getting turned away because he didn’t like them. Funerals, Randall said, should be a celebration of life and “a touch of humor doesn’t hurt a bit.”

8 Responses to Tony Randall

  1. Ethan

    I met and interviewed Tony Randall a little less than a year ago in his NYC apartment. He was generous and funny, and he even laughed at a couple of my jokes. It was pouring rain, and I will always remember how he called me “uncommonly courteous” for removing my shoes before entering his home.
    We discussed the actors who starred with him in “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?,” and he realized that he was the only one still alive. “I’m the sole survivor!” he said, sadly but somehow excitedly. Coming to terms with one’s own mortality is not a very easy thing to do, but, in the very brief time that I spent with him, he seemed to be handling it as well and graciously as anyone could.
    I consider myself very fortunate to have spoken with this very great actor and kind man.

  2. JEF

    I did not know that Tony Randall died, I am sorry to have heard this, I was watching Good Morning America, and heard something about, Tony Randall is not with us. Yes! I thought he was a funny guy, in the Odd Couple, and I would laugh very hard and that is good medicine.

  3. pauline pratt

    i lived in the bahamas, everynight i stayed up just to watch the odd couple i loved tony randall in it, because he was such a clean freak. every night my cable company puts on re runs and i still enjoy it. RIP “FELIX UNGAR”

  4. Keith R. Wood

    His greatest role was that of the Seven Faces of Dr Lao. From pure humor to that philosophic talk, he really did something which few other actors could have done. Thank you, Doctor, for making us all a part of the Circus of Dr Lao.

  5. Nate Robinson

    I’m sorry I never got to know him better although the times I remember spending with him when I was younger were very nice. I remember him picking me up by my ears this one time! It is indeed a great loss for the acting world with him gone now. I’m sure these comments would have meant quite a lot to him.
    Nate, Tony Randall’s grandnephew.

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