Actor Alan Arkin, the veteran comic actor who won an Oscar for his performance in Little Miss Sunshine, has died at age 89.
More than a decade after he first hit the stage, Alan Arkin was declared an overnight success for his part in Carl Reiner’s Enter Laughing. The versatile actor, whose characters ranged from a drug lord menacing Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark to parts on Sesame Street and The Muppets, and a string of quirky Tim Burton characters had 82 credits when he won the Academy Award at age 73.
Arkin was born in Brooklyn, but his parents moved to Los Angeles when he was 11. After graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School in Highland Park in 1951, Arkin studied drama at Los Angeles City College and Cal State L.A. One of his earliest performances was the Yiddish folk comedy Once Upon a Tailor, staged a tiny playhouse around the corner from Paramount Studios. At the same time his father David Arkin, an art teacher in South Los Angeles, was fired by the L.A. Unified School District for refusing to answer questions about membership in the Communist Party.
Arkin moved to New York where he joined the folk music group The Tarriers, which led to his first movie role in Calypso Heat Wave in 1957. Three years later he relocated to Chicago where he joined the Second City comedy troupe and took their show to Broadway.
“I took the Second City job because I was failing in New York,” he told The New York Times in 1986. “I couldn’t get arrested. When I got there I wasn’t funny at all. But slowly I built one character, then another, and the audience helped teach me what was funny and what didn’t work.” He won a Tony award for Enter Laughing.
His first feature film The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, earned him his first Oscar nomination. Arkin used an accent in the comedy about a Soviet submarine commander and kept it going with a string of international characters.
“I could play any kind of foreigner,” he told The New York Times in 1970. “But I can’t play any kind of native of anywhere.”
Arkin became a film and stage director, wrote several books, and taught improv comedy. He received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his part opposite Michael Douglas in The Kominsky Method.
Arkin suffered a stroke in 2015 and took on more voiceover work, including playing author J.D. Salinger on Bojack Horseman and the latest Minions movie released last year. Arkin died this morning at his home near San Diego.
“Our father was a uniquely talented force of nature, both as an artist and a man,” his sons told People magazine. “A loving husband, father, grand and great grandfather, he was adored and will be deeply missed.”