Though it seemed for the last few decades he was unstoppable, Eli Wallach —the actor perhaps best known for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (he was the Ugly) —has died at the age of 98 from natural causes.
Wallach was already a noted screen presence when that most famous of Italian “spaghetti westerns” came out in 1966. He studied at the Actor’s Studio from its very start in 1947, where he worked along the likes of Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Anne Jackson, whom he would later marry. He was a stage and stage-on-TV staple, and he got his screen start in 1956’s “Baby Doll,” directed by Actor’s Studio co-founder Elia Kazan.
But while he had the occasional serious role —notably as Clark Gable’s sidekick in the Arthur Miller-penned, John Huston-directed, Marilyn Monroe-co-starring “The Misfits,” from 1961 —it’s his dirty genre work for which he’s most remembered. His second film was playing a charismatic villain in 1958’s “The Lineup,” a grimy but sleek noir ecstatically directed by Don Siegel.
It was only his fourth film that established his roots in the Western genre: 1960’s “The Magnificent Seven,” in which he played the sadistic bandit leader taken down by a septet of hired gunslingers. He played an outlaw in 1962’s epic “How the West Was Won,” which also featured Lee Van Cleef. The two reunited for Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” in which the union of taciturn Clint Eastwood, taciturn Lee Van Cleef and endlessly motormouthed sparkplug Wallach (whose name was technically Tuco) helped make it stick out even more in the genre.
Wallach spent the last few decades in small elder statesman roles, including a great performance as the gregarious-seeming but high villainous Don in “The Godfather Part III.” Occasionally he would crop up in bit parts in films as diverse as “Keeping the Faith,” “Mystic River,” “The Holiday,” “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and “The Ghost Writer,” looking fragile but nonetheless projecting boundless, sometimes weird energy.
Wallach is survived by his wife, 87, and the three children.
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