LOS ANGELES (AP) – George Segal, the banjo-turned-actor who was nominated for an Oscar for the 1966 film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and worked into his late 80s on the ABC sitcom “The Goldberg,” he died Tuesday in Santa Rosa, California, his wife said.
“The family is devastated to announce that this morning George Segal passed away due to complications from bypass surgery,” Sonia Segal said in a statement. He was 87 years old.
George Segal was always best known as a comedic actor, becoming one of the biggest stars on the screen in the 1970s when lighthearted adult comedies flourished.
But her most famous role was in a heartbreaking drama, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, Based on the acclaimed play by Edward Albee.
He was the last surviving credited member of the small cast, the four Academy Award nominees: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for leading roles, Sandy Dennis and Segal for supporting performances. The women won the Oscars, the men did not.
To younger audiences, he was best known for playing magazine editor Jack Gallo on the long-running NBC series “Just Shoot Me” from 1997 to 2003, and as grandpa Albert “Pops” Solomon on “The Goldberg” from 2013.
“Today we lost a legend. It was truly an honor to be a small part of George Segal’s amazing legacy, “said” Goldbergs “creator Adam Goldberg, who based the show on his childhood in the 1980s.” By sheer destiny, I ended up casting the person. perfect for playing Pops. Like my grandfather, George was a child at heart with a magic spark. “
In his Hollywood prime, he played a suffocating intellectual opposite Barbra Streisand’s carefree prostitute in “The Owl and the Pussycat” from the 1970s; a cheating husband opposite Glenda Jackson in 1973’s “A Touch of Class”; a desperate gambler opposite Elliot Gould in director Robert Altman’s 1974 “California Split”; and a suburban bank robber opposite Jane Fonda in 1977’s “Fun with Dick and Jane.”
Ready to be a handsome leading man, Segal’s profile had been rising steadily since his first film, “The Young Doctors,” in 1961, in which he landed ninth in billing. His first leading role was in “King Rat” as a nefarious inmate in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.
In “Virginia Woolf,” he played Nick, one half of a young couple invited for a drink and witnessing the bitterness and frustration of a middle-aged couple.
Director Mike Nichols needed someone to get approval from star Elizabeth Taylor, and he turned to Segal when Robert Redford turned him down.
According to Nichols’ biographer Mark Harris, the director said Segal was “close enough to the young god he needed to be for Elizabeth, and witty and funny enough to deal with all that humiliation.”
Segal died 10 years after Taylor.
He led the film on a long career of stardom. Then, in the late 1970s, “Jaws” and other action movies changed the nature of Hollywood movies, and the light comedies in which Segal was featured became obsolete.
“Then I got a little older,” he said in a 1998 interview. “I started playing urban father roles. And that guy became Chevy Chase, and after that there really was nowhere to go. “
With the exception of the 1989 hit “Look Who’s Talking,” Segal’s films in the 1980s and 1990s were mediocre. He turned to television and starred in two failed series, “Take Five” and “Murphy’s Law.”
He then found success in 1997 with David Spade’s sitcom “Just Shoot Me” in which he played Gallo, who despite his gruff manners hires his daughter (Laura San Giacomo) and maintains the useless office worker character of Spade on his payroll simply for one sense. of affection for both.
Series co-star Brian Posehn was one of many who paid tribute to Segal Tuesday night.
“I grew up watching it, total old-school charm, effortless comic timing,” Posehn said in Segal’s “Just Shoot Me.” “Doing scenes with him was one of the highlights of my life, but getting to know him a little and making the legend laugh was even better.”
Throughout his long acting career, Segal played the banjo for fun, becoming quite adept at the instrument he had first learned as a child. He performed with his own Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band.
Born in 1934 in Great Neck, New York, the third son of a hop and malt merchant, Segal began entertaining at the age of 8, performing magic tricks for neighborhood children.
He attended a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania and, as an undergraduate at Columbia University, organized the “Bruno Linch and His Imperial Band,” for which he also played the banjo.
After graduation, Segal worked without pay at the Circle in the Square theater in New York, doing everything from collecting tickets to acting as a stand-in. He studied theater with Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen, and made his first professional acting appearance off-Broadway in Moliere’s “Don Juan.” It lasted one night.
After a stint on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh,” he was drafted into the military. Graduated in 1957, he returned to the stage and began to land small roles in movies.
In 1956, Segal married television story editor Marion Sobel and they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Polly, before divorcing in 1981.
He married his second wife, Linda Rogoff, in London in 1982 and was devastated when she died of a stomach illness 14 years later.
“It was a moment where I said, ‘It doesn’t add up; I don’t understand it anymore, ”he reminded an interviewer in 1999.“ With Linda’s death, I lost interest in everything. I worked just for a living. Acting, like life, became joyless work. “
Eventually, he reconnected with Sonia Schultz Greenbaum, who had been his high school girlfriend about 45 years earlier. They talked on the phone, sometimes for up to six hours, and were married within a few months of meeting.
“She helped me through the worst days of my life just by listening to me download,” Segal said in 1999. “It was magical.”