George Segal, the banjo player, became an actor in 1966 for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Nominated for an Oscar. and worked on the ABC sitcom “The Goldbergs” through her late 80s, died Tuesday in Santa Rosga, California, his wife said.
“The family is devastated when it announces that George Segal passed away this morning from complications from bypass surgery,” Sonia Segal said in a statement. He was 87 years old.
Always known as a comic strip actor, George Segal became one of the big screen stars in the 1970s as light-hearted adult comedies flourished.
But his most famous role was in a harrowing drama, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Based on Edward Albee’s acclaimed play.
He was the last surviving member of the tiny cast all four of whom were Academy Award nominations: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for lead roles, Sandy Dennis and Segal for side appearances. The women won Oscars, the men did not.
To a younger audience he was better known as magazine publisher Jack Gallo in the long-running NBC series “Just Shoot Me” from 1997 to 2003 and as grandfather Albert “Pops” Solomon in “The Goldbergs” since 2013.
“Today we lost a legend. It was a real honor to be a small part of George Segal’s amazing legacy,” said Adam Goldberg, creator of “Goldbergs,” who based the show on his childhood in the 1980s. “I chose the perfect person for Pops by sheer fate. Just like my grandfather, George was a kid with a magical spark at heart.”
In his heyday in Hollywood in the 1970s, he played “The Owl and the Pussycat” as a constipated intellectual opposite Barbra Streisand’s free-roaming prostitute. a cheating husband to Glenda Jackson in “A Touch of Class” from 1973; a hopeless gambler opposite Elliot Gould in Robert Altman’s 1974 director “California Split”; and a bank-robbing suburbanite opposite Jane Fonda in “Fun with Dick and Jane” from 1977.
Segal became a handsome lead actor. Segal’s profile had risen steadily since his first 1961 film, The Young Doctors, in which he had the ninth reckoning. He played his first leading role in “King Rat” as a vicious inmate in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.
In “Virginia Woolf,” he played Nick, half of a young couple who were invited over for a drink to witness the bitterness and frustration of a middle-aged couple.
Director Mike Nichols needed someone who would get approval from star Elizabeth Taylor and reached out 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 to Elizabeth and witty and funny enough to deal with all of this humiliation”.
Segal died 10 years after Taylor.
He made the film a long star. In the late 1970s, “Jaws” and other action films changed the nature of Hollywood movies, and the light comedies that Segal excelled in became passe.
“Then I got a little older,” he said in a 1998 interview. “I started playing urban dad roles. And this guy turned into Chevy Chase, and after that there was really no place to go.”
With the exception of the 1989 hit “Look Who’s Talking”, Segal’s films were lackluster in the 1980s and 1990s. He turned to television and starred on two failed series, “Take Five” and “Murphy’s Law”.
He then found success in 1997 with the David Spade sitcom “Just Shoot Me,” in which he played Gallo who, despite his gruff manner, hires his daughter (Laura San Giacomo) and just keeps Spade’s worthless office boy character out of mind on his payroll of affection for both.
The series co-star Brian Posehn was one of many to pay tribute to Segal on Tuesday night.
“I grew up watching him, total old-school charm, effortless comedic timing,” said Segal’s Just Shoot Me Posehn. “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 cooler.”
During his long acting career, Segal played the banjo for fun and became quite successful on the instrument he first learned as a boy. He performed with his own Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band.
Born in 1934 in Great Neck, New York, the third son of a malt and hops merchant, Segal began entertaining magic tricks for neighborhood children at the age of 8.
He attended a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania and, as a student at Columbia University, organized “Bruno Linch and his Imperial Band”, for which he also played the banjo.
After graduating, Segal worked for no salary at New York’s Theater Circle in the Square, doing everything from ticket acceptance to the understudy. He studied theater with Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen and appeared as an actor for the first time outside of Broadway in Moliere’s “Don Juan”. It took a night.
After a stay on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” he was drafted into the army. Dismissed in 1957, he returned to the stage and got small film roles.
In 1956, Segal married television 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 ailment 14 years later.
“There was a time when I said,” It doesn’t add up; I don’t understand it anymore, “he recalled to an interviewer in 1999.” When Linda died, I lost interest in everything. I only worked to make a living. Acting like life became a joyless job. “
He eventually reconnected with Sonia Schultz Greenbaum, who had been his girlfriend in high school 45 years ago. They talked on the phone, sometimes for up to six hours, and were married just months after reunification.
“She helped me through the worst days of my life listening to me unload,” Segal said in 1999. “It was magical.”