Walter Matthau, Original Oscar Madison, Dead at 79

News   Walter Matthau, Original Oscar Madison, Dead at 79 Walter Matthau, the actor whose hangdog face is known to millions for roles in the film versions of stage hits "Hello, Dolly!" and "The Odd Couple," died in the early morning of July 1 in a Santa Monica, CA, hospital.

Walter Matthau, the actor whose hangdog face is known to millions for roles in the film versions of stage hits "Hello, Dolly!" and "The Odd Couple," died in the early morning of July 1 in a Santa Monica, CA, hospital.

The cause of death was cardiac arrest, according to a statement. Mr. Matthau was 79.

Born with the surname Matthow in 1920, the actor was in a number of New York flops in the 1940s and 1950s before appearing as the playwright Michael Freeman in 1955’s stage comedy, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Before playing Oscar Madison, perhaps his best-known role, in Broadway’s The Odd Couple in 1965, Mr. Matthau had stage successes in Once More, With Feeling (1958), which earned him a Supporting Actor Tony Award nomination, and A Shot in the Dark (1961), for which he won the Tony Award for Supporting Actor.

Mr. Matthau played the slobby New Yorker Oscar Madison to Art Carney’s precise, fussy Felix Unger in The Odd Couple on Broadway, and recreated the role for the film version, starring opposite Jack Lemmon. Lemmon and Mr. Matthau (who would be longtime movie co-stars) appeared in a film sequel, "The Odd Couple II," which showed the sparring friends in their later years. There was talk of a third picture. The stage performance won him a Best Actor Tony Award in 1965.

Mr. Matthau played the frustrated father of a bride in the film version of Simon’s "Plaza Suite," and starred in films of Simon’s "The Sunshine Boys," "I Ought to Be in Pictures" and "California Suite." He warbled Jerry Herman’s "It Takes a Woman" in the movie, "Hello, Dolly!," opposite Barbra Streisand. His many films include "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3," "The Bad News Bears," "Grumpy Old Men," "Grumpier Old Men," "Earthquake," "The Front Page," "The First Monday in October," "Buddy, Buddy," "Cactus Flower," "I'm Not Rappaport" and "The Grass Harp." Mr. Matthau studied with Erwin Piscator at the New School after serving in World War II.

-- By Kenneth Jones