Oscar winner Alan Arkin, seasoned trouper of ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ dies

Alan Arkin is honored with a Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on June 7, 2019, in Hollywood, California. (Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images/TNS)

Oscar winner Alan Arkin, whose background in improvisation and knack for comic drama were cornerstones of his extensive genre-hopping career that yielded enduring characters from the 1960s comedy “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” to “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Argo,” has died.

“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,” the actor’s sons Adam, Matthew and Anthony said in a joint statement shared with The Times on Friday.


No additional details about his death were revealed. Arkin was 89.

Arkin’s wry wit and offhand performances brought realism to his work as he played his characters straight, making the droll moments more hilarious. Arkin added depth to the characters he played with elaborate costumes, makeup and quirky personality tics, delivering a fresh film nearly every year until late in life.

“Acting used to be torture, and if I didn’t do a scene well I felt as if I’d died. I never considered quitting acting, though — I couldn’t, because I was so shy that I needed it as a way of contacting people,” Arkin told The Times in 1998.

“My real vocation for several decades has been trying to find out who I am, and learn something about reality and consciousness,” he added. “That’s been my main work, and one of the results of this very long, slow process, is that acting’s become fun for me.”

Arkin was nominated for four Academy Awards. He won a supporting actor Oscar playing a dysfunctional family’s foul-mouthed, drug-fueled patriarch in 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine.” The actor witnessed the evolution of the film industry, which helped in his Oscar-nominated turn as a composited studio boss in 2013’s best picture winner “Argo.” (He said he based his character on legendary Warner Bros. executive Jack Warner.)

Versatile and adaptable, Arkin launched his career as a member of Chicago’s influential improvisational troupe, Second City. He won a Tony Award for his first Broadway play, Carl Reiner’s “Enter Laughing,” before making his film debut in the 1966 Cold War farce “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.” He earned a lead actor Oscar nomination and won a lead actor Golden Globe award for his role as the submarine commander in the film

He followed that up with the range-stretching role of an erudite psychopath stalking Audrey Hepburn in 1967’s “Wait Until Dark” and earned another Oscar nomination as a tragic deaf and mute man in 1968’s “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.”

As the years went by, Arkin seemed to work at a furious pace. He played the bumbling detective in “Inspector Clouseau,” inheriting the role from Peter Sellers after Sellers departed from the “Pink Panther” franchise. Arkin went on to appear in “Catch-22,” “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,” “The In-Laws,” “St. Elsewhere,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Gattaca” and “Slums of Beverly Hills” before winning his Oscar for “Little Miss Sunshine.”

In his later years, he perfected a reliably funny old codger persona in films such as “Grudge Match,” “Million Dollar Arm,” “Bojack Horseman” and “Going In Style” and in the Emmy-nominated Netflix comedy “The Kominsky Method.”

When “Argo” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, director Ben Affleck introduced Arkin as the “sweetest guy in the world even though he’s always playing the cranky guy with the heart of gold.”

Arkin believed that the key to making people laugh was to approach silly with seriousness, which is what he did as he played a serviceman working out the insanity of warfare in “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” and “Catch-22”; a salesman surreptitiously moving his family around like nomads in 1998’s “Slums of Beverly Hills”; and a prosperous dentist reluctantly drawn into espionage in 1979’s odd-couple comedy “The In-Laws.”

“The more legitimate you make it, the funnier it is,” Arkin said in 2008. “I love insane, stupid comedy, but I can only make it work if it’s a character I can give some history to and make real.

Like the guy I played in ‘Little Miss Sunshine.’ He’s a maniac, but to me, he was absolutely believable.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.