ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

Alan Arkin, Oscar-winning ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ actor, dies at 89

Jun 30, 2023, 11:55 AM | Updated: 12:24 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Oscar winner Alan Arkin has died at age 89. The popular character actor was no...

Alan Arkin poses for a portrait in the Fender Music Lodge during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Jan. 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Victoria Will, file via AP)

(AP Photo/Victoria Will, file via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Alan Arkin, the wry character actor who demonstrated his versatility in everything from farcical comedy to chilling drama as he received four Academy Award nominations and won an Oscar in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine,” has died. He was 89.

His sons Adam, Matthew and Anthony confirmed their father’s death through the actor’s publicist on Friday. “Our father was a uniquely talented force of nature, both as an artist and a man,” they said in a statement.

Hollywood was in mourning, with Paul Reiser, Michael Rapaport and Patton Oswalt among those praising Arkin. “Such a wonderful, original voice for comedy. And on the few occasions I was in his presence, a kind and generous soul. I learned so much from watching him. And the laughs I got from his glorious work seem endless,” tweeted Jason Alexander.

A member of Chicago’s famed Second City comedy troupe, Arkin was an immediate success in movies with the Cold War spoof “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” and peaked late in life with his win as best supporting actor for the surprise 2006 hit “Little Miss Sunshine.” More than 40 years separated his first Oscar nomination, for “The Russians are Coming,” from his nomination for playing a conniving 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 that earned him two Emmy nominations.

“When I was a young actor people wanted to know if I wanted to be a serious actor or a funny one,” Michael McKean tweeted Friday. ‘I’d answer ‘Which kind is Alan Arkin?’ and that shut them up.”

Arkin once joked to The Associated Press that the beauty of being a character actor was not having to take his clothes off for a role. He wasn’t a sex symbol or superstar, but was rarely out of work, appearing in more than 100 TV and feature films. His trademarks were likability, relatability and complete immersion in his roles, no matter how unusual, whether playing a Russian submarine officer in “The Russians are Coming” who struggles to communicate with the equally jittery Americans, or standing out as the foul-mouthed, drug-addicted grandfather in “Little Miss Sunshine.”

“Alan’s never had an identifiable screen personality because he just disappears into his characters,” director Norman Jewison of “The Russians are Coming” once observed. “His accents are impeccable, and he’s even able to change his looks. … He’s always been underestimated, partly because he’s never been in service of his own success.”

While still with Second City, Arkin was chosen by Carl Reiner to play the young protagonist in the 1963 Broadway play “Enter Laughing,” based on Reiner’s semi-autobiographical novel.

He attracted strong reviews and the notice of Jewison, who was preparing to direct a 1966 comedy about a Russian sub that creates a panic when it ventures too close to a small New England town. In Arkin’s next major film, he proved he could also play a villain, however 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.

“Just awful,” he said. “She was an exquisite lady, so being mean to her was hard.”

Arkin’s rise continued in 1968 with “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” in which he played a sensitive man who could not hear or speak. He starred as the bumbling French detective in “Inspector Clouseau” that same year, but the film would become overlooked in favor of Peter Sellers’ Clouseau in the “Pink Panther” movies.

Arkin’s career as a character actor continued to blossom when Mike Nichols, a fellow Second City alumnus, cast him in the starring role as Yossarian, the victim of wartime red tape in 1970’s “Catch-22,” based on Joseph Heller’s million-selling novel. Through the years, Arkin turned up in such favorites as “Edward Scissorhands,” playing Johnny Depp’s neighbor; and in the film version of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” as a dogged real estate salesman. He and Reiner played brothers, one successful (Reiner), one struggling (Arkin), in the 1998 film “The Slums of Beverly Hills.”

“I used to think that my stuff had a lot of variety. But I realized that for the first twenty years or so, most of the characters I played were outsiders, strangers to their environment, foreigners in one way or another,” he told The Associated Press in 2007.

“As I started to get more and more comfortable with myself, that started to shift. I got one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever gotten from someone a few days ago. They said that they thought my characters were very 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 included “Going in Style,” a 2017 remake featuring fellow Oscar winners Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and “The Kominsky Method.” He played a Hollywood talent agent and friend of Douglas’ character, a once-promising actor who ran an acting school after his career sputtered.

He also was the voice of Wild Knuckles in the 2022 animated film “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Arkin also directed the film version of Jules Feiffer’s 1971 dark comedy “Little Murders” and Neil Simon’s 1972 play about bickering old vaudeville partners, “The Sunshine Boys.” On television, Arkin appeared in the short-lived series “Fay” and “Harry” and played a night court judge in Sidney Lumet’s drama series “100 Centre Street” on A&E. He also wrote several books for children.

Born in New York City’s borough of Brooklyn, he and his family, which included two younger brothers, moved to Los Angeles when he was 11. His parents found jobs as teachers, but were fired during the post-World War II Red Scare because they were Communists.

“We were dirt poor so I couldn’t afford to go to the movies often,” he told the AP in 1998. “But I went whenever I could and focused in on movies, as they were more important than anything in my life.”

He studied acting at Los Angeles City College; California State University, Los Angeles; and Bennington College in Vermont, where he earned a scholarship to the formerly all-girls school.

He 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.”

“It was certainly nothing that I pushed them into,” Arkin said in 1998. “It made absolutely no difference to me what they did, as long as it allowed them to grow.”

Arkin began his entertainment career as an organizer and singer with The Tarriers, a group that briefly rode the folk musical revival wave of the late 1950s. Later, he turned to stage acting, off-Broadway and always in dramatic roles.

At Second City, he worked with Nichols, Elaine May, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara and others in creating intellectual, high-speed impromptu riffs the fads and follies of the day.

“I never knew that I could be funny until I joined Second City,” he said.
___
Bob Thomas, a longtime Associated Press journalist who died in 2014, was the principal writer of this obituary. AP National Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report from New York.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Arts + Entertainment

Music and the Spoken word getting new voice...

Adam Small

Iconic voice of ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ to present his final program

Lloyd Newell who has presented "Music and the Spoken Word" for 35 years will be stepping down from his position.

2 days ago

tuesday movie poster next to ksl movie show host steve salles...

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show review: ‘Tuesday’ is a movie you need to experience for yourself

In this KSL Movie Show review, we explore "Tuesday," which personifies death as a talking macaw.

2 days ago

ksl movie show host steve salles stands next to inside out 2 movie poster...

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show review: ‘Inside Out 2’ is almost as good as the original

Is the long-anticipated movie "Inside Out 2" as good as the original? KSL Movie Show host Steve Salles says no, but it’s pretty darn close!

2 days ago

Arraignment for driver, Kent Cody Barlow today...

Heather Peterson, Diana Jones

Arraignment for driver accused of killing two boys in Eagle Mountain on Wednesday

The accused, Kent Cody Barlow, was reportedly driving over 100 mph when he crashed into Cedar Valley Stables.

4 days ago

LA Clippers executive board member Jerry West attends a game between the Orlando Magic and the Hous...

Devin Oldroyd

Inspiration behind NBA logo, Jerry West dies at 86

The inspiration for the NBA's logo and famed former basketball player Jerry West has died. West was 86-years-old. 

4 days ago

A rendering of a proposed "sports, entertainment, culture and convention center" surrounding Delta ...

Carter Williams, ksl.com

Delta Center renovations could begin next year. Here’s what some of Smith’s plans look like

Construction to remodel the Delta Center could begin as early as April 2025, Smith Entertainment Group officials said Tuesday.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...

Comcast

Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Alan Arkin, Oscar-winning ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ actor, dies at 89