Tony Winner Alan Arkin Passes Away at 89 | Playbill

Obituaries Tony Winner Alan Arkin Passes Away at 89

Initially an actor, Mr. Arkin also had a successful career as a director on both the stage and screen.

Alan Arkin

Tony winner Alan Arkin, known for his dynamic understanding of comedy and tragedy, has passed away. News of his death was confirmed by his children to The New York Times. He was 89.

The son of a set designer and a teacher, Mr. Arkin had a somewhat tumultuous adolescence: His father, a union worker in Hays Code Hollywood, was fired for participating in an eight-month strike, and it didn't take long before both of Mr. Arkin's parents were targeted during the Red Scare, leading to a familial battle for justice that was not served until long after his father's death.

In spite of this (or perhaps, in part, because of it), Mr. Arkin put down deep roots in the arts, and began training at various drama academies when he was barely 10 years old. On the side, he formed a band with two friends called The Tarriers, where he sang and played lead guitar on the band's two hit records, "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" and "Cindy, Oh, Cindy." Music remained a side hobby for Mr. Arkin for most of his life following The Tarriers' success in the 1950's, but he did continue to perform and record upon occasion throughout the 20th century.

An early member of the Second City comedy troupe, he made his Broadway debut in From the Second City in 1961 before starring in the Joseph Stein comedy Enter Laughing, which catapulted him from the margins and into the artistic elite of his day, honoring him with both a Tony and Theatre World Award. Mr. Arkin performed in one final Broadway comedy, 1964's Luv, before transforming into a new kind of star.

Known initially for his comedic skills, Mr. Arkin could navigate between tragedy and humor with an innate sense of how the two disciplines fed directly into each other.  Working closely with director Mike Nichols on Luv, he perfected the role of the unintentionally comedic misfit, an archetype with which he would continue to engage throughout his career.

It did not take long for the screen world to take notice of his talents, and Mr. Arkin became a star in the Hollywood industry that had previously rejected his family. In all, Mr. Arkin would become an eight-time Golden Globe nominee, a six-time Emmy nominee, a three-time BAFTA nominee, and a four-time Academy Award nominee, taking home the Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine in 2006. As a performer, his resume of films and co-stars was impressive: the triple hit of The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming opposite Carl Reiner, Wait Until Dark opposite Audrey Hepburn, and Women Times Seven opposite Shirley MacLaine would have been career-making for many other actors, but for Mr. Arkin, it was simply 18 months of work.

When he returned to the stage, it was as a director, guiding Hail Scrawdyke!, The Sunshine Boys, Molly, and Taller Than a Dwarf to the Broadway stage, with Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys netting him an additional Tony nomination. In a rare musical appearance, he appeared opposite Madeline Kahn in a concert staging of Leonard Bernstein's operetta Candide in 1968.

Mr. Arkin was a popular writer as well, with his ouvre including Tony's Hard Work Day (illustrated by James Stevenson, 1972), The Lemming Condition (illustrated by Joan Sandin, 1976), Halfway Through the Door: An Actor's Journey Toward Self (1979), and The Clearing (1986). In the 21st century he released two memoirs, An Improvised Life (2011) and Out of My Mind (2018).

Mr. Arkin continued to act up until the COVID-19 pandemic, starring in the animated series BoJack Horseman and The Kominsky Method opposite Michael Douglas. Married three times, all of his sons, Adam, Matthew, and Anthony, have  become successful actors in their own right. 

Mr. Arkin is survived by his sons, his wife Suzanne Newlander Arkin, and four grandchildren. 

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