George Segal, the Oscar-nominated actor who sparred with Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, romanced Glenda Jackson in A Touch of Class and won laughs in the TV sitcom Just Shoot Me!, has died at 87.
“The family is devastated to announce that this morning George Segal passed away due to complications from bypass surgery,” his wife Sonia Segal said in a statement on Tuesday.
Charming and witty, Segal excelled in dramatic and comedic roles, most recently playing laid-back widower Albert “Pops” Solomon on the comedy series The Goldbergs.
Segal’s long time manager Abe Hoch said in a statement that he would miss his friend’s “warmth, humour, camaraderie and friendship. He was a wonderful human’.
Segal’s acting career began on the New York stage and television in the early 1960s. He quickly moved into films, playing an artist in the star-studded ensemble drama Ship Of Fools and a scheming, wily American corporal in a World War Two prisoner-of-war camp in King Rat in 1965.
Two years later he earned an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actor in the harrowing, marital drama Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” with Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
But it was in comedies that Segal cemented his star status in a string of films in the 1970s with A-list directors and co-stars such as Jackson, who won an Oscar for her performance in A Touch Of Class.
He starred opposite Jane Fonda in Fun With Dick And Jane, fell for the charms of Barbra Streisand in The Owl And The Pussycat and played Natalie Wood’s husband in The Last Married Couple In America.
“I always try to find the humor and the irony in whatever character I am playing because I think of myself as a comedic actor,” Segal said in an interview with the online movie journal filmtalk.org in 2016.
“So that makes drama a lot more fun for me by not taking it so seriously, you know.”
He credited an early appearance on the late-night talk show “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” for his switch to comedic roles.
“It was the first time that the people who make movies saw me doing comedy and having this funny interchange with Carson,” Segal told the Orlando Sentinel in 1998.
He said he considered himself lucky in a business that he compared to gambling because you’re always waiting for your lucky number, or a great part, to come up.
He also had a life-long passion for the banjo and performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1981 with his group, the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band.
When Segal’s film career waned in the 1980s he appeared in TV films and series before returning to the big screen in supporting roles that included Look Who’s Talking in 1989 and 1996’s The Cable Guy with Jim Carrey.
He found a younger generation of fans as a women’s magazine publisher in the hit TV comedy Just Shoot Me!, which ran from 1997 to 2003.
“He could make characters who should have been jerks seem lovable,” producer Steve Levitan, who worked with Segal on Just Shoot Me!”, told Variety in a 2017 interview.
Segal said he did not contemplate retirement because people kept offering him interesting roles.
“Being in your 70s is OK but, when you get to your 80s, you get creaky,” he told Variety.
“I’ve got my second wind — although I’m not going as fast as I used to.”