Alan Arkin, Oscar and Tony Winner, Dead at 89

Photo: Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Everett Collection

Alan Arkin, an American treasure known for his dry delivery and understated pathos, has died. He was 89. “Our father was a uniquely talented force of nature, both as an artist and a man,” his sons Adam, Matthew, and Anthony told People. “A loving husband, father, grand and great grandfather, he was adored and will be deeply missed.” Born in 1934, Arkin’s acting career spanned 60 years, though prior to acting, he was a member of the folk band the Tarriers, with whom he scored two top-ten hits in “Cindy, Oh Cindy” and “The Banana Boat Song” in 1956–57. He left the group after their European tour in ’57. Arkin then joined the Chicago-based comedy troupe Second City in 1960. “Second City saved my life. It literally saved my life,” Arkin once said. “I have a feeling it’s true for a lot of other people, too.”

Arkin’s career began in earnest with the 1963 Broadway play Enter Laughing, for which he won a Tony Award. He then starred in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, a 1966 film, and was nominated for his first Academy Award. He accrued his second nomination shortly thereafter, for 1968’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Arkin worked throughout the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s in Hollywood, though he would note that his career took a downturn for a bit after he starred in 1970’s Catch-22. Catch-22 was a huge failure, and it rubbed off on everybody connected to it,” he later told Vulture. “I had a bunch of lean years where I had to do things, a lot of which I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about.”

His later career was equally successful, if not more so, as his career through the ’90s. Arkin received his third Oscar nomination for 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, and it ultimately became his first and only win. He went on to accrue a fourth nomination for 2012’s Argo, and starred from 2016–17 in The Kominsky Method on Netflix, for which he received two Emmy nominations. Arkin was also an author, writing two memoirs: An Improvised Life and Out of My Mind (Not Quite a Memoir). “That’s what we’re all doing, all the time, whether we know it or not,” he wrote in An Improvised Life. “Whether we like it or not. Creating something on the spur of the moment with the materials at hand. We might just as well let the rest of it go, join the party, and dance our hearts out.”

Alan Arkin, Oscar-Winning Actor, Dead at 89