AP Entertainment Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- For many, Jack Klugman will always be the messy one.
His portrayal of sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison on TV's "The Odd Couple" left viewers laughing but it also gave Klugman the leverage to create a more serious character, the gruff medical examiner in "Quincy M.E." His everyman ethos and comic timing endeared him to audiences and led to a prolific, six-decade acting career that spanned stage, screen and television.
Klugman died Monday at age 90 in suburban Northridge with his wife at his side. His sons called on his fans to embrace their father's tenacious and positive spirit.
"He had a great life and he enjoyed every moment of it, and he would encourage others to do the same," son Adam Klugman said.
The cause of Klugman's death was not immediately known. Adam Klugman said his father had been slowing down in recent years, but wasn't battling cancer, which robbed him of his voice in the 1980s. Klugman taught himself to speak again, and kept working.
He remained popular for decades simply by playing the type of man you could imagine running into at a bar or riding on a subway with -- gruff, but down-to-earth, his tie stained and a little loose, a racing form under his arm, a cigar in hand during the days when smoking was permitted.
Off-screen, Klugman owned racehorses and enjoyed gambling, although acting remained his passion.
Despite his on-screen wars with Tony Randall's neat-freak character Felix Unger on "Odd Couple," the show created a friendship between the men that endured after the series ended.
When Randall died in 2004 at age 84, Klugman told CNN: "A world without Tony Randall is a world that I cannot recognize."
The "Odd Couple," which ran from 1970 to 1975, was based on Neil Simon's play about mismatched roommates -- divorced New Yorkers who end up living together. The comedy came from their opposite personalities -- Klugman playing a writer whose sloppiness consistently irritated the Randall's fussy photographer character. The pairing was so good, the show didn't need constant help from the writers.
"There's nobody better to improvise with than Tony," Klugman said. "A script might say, 'Oscar teaches Felix football.' There would be four blank pages. He would provoke me into reacting to what he did. Mine was the easy part."
Fans and fellow actors agreed it worked, posting clips of their favorite Klugman roles on Twitter and other social networking sites late Monday.
"RIP Jack Klugman. You made my whole family laugh together," actor-director Jon Favreau wrote on Twitter.
"He was a wonderful man and supremely talented actor," wrote actor Max Greenfield, who worked with Klugman several years ago. "He will be missed."
In "Quincy, M.E.," which ran from 1976 to 1983, Klugman played an idealistic, tough-minded medical examiner who tussled with his boss by uncovering evidence of murder in cases where others saw natural causes.
"We had some wonderful writers," he said in a 1987 Associated Press interview. "Quincy was a muckraker, like Upton Sinclair, who wrote about injustices. He was my ideal as a youngster, my author, my hero.
"Everybody said, 'Quincy'll never be a hit.' I said, 'You guys are wrong. He's two heroes in one, a cop and a doctor.' A coroner has power. He can tell the police commissioner to investigate a murder. I saw the opportunity to do what I'd gotten into the theater to do -- give a message.
"They were going to do cops and robbers with 'Quincy.' I said, 'You promised me I could do causes.' They said, 'Nobody wants to see that.' I said, 'Look at the success of '60 Minutes.' They want to see it if you present it as entertainment."
For his 1987 role as 81-year-old Nat in the Broadway production of "I'm Not Rappaport," Klugman wore leg weights to learn to shuffle like an elderly man. He said he would wear them for an hour before each performance "to remember to keep that shuffle."
"The guy is so vital emotionally, but physically he can't be," Klugman said. "We treat old people so badly. There is nothing easy about 80."
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he was born in Philadelphia and began acting in college at Carnegie Institute of Technology. After serving in the Army during World War II, he went on to summer stock and off-Broadway, rooming with fellow actor Charles Bronson as both looked for paying jobs. He made his Broadway debut in 1952 in a revival of "Golden Boy."