Bye Bye Walter Matthau

Published July 1st, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

A spokesman for Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, said that America’s favorite grumpy old man, Walter Matthau, entered the emergency room during the night and died a few hours later, reported Reuters. 

While cause of death was not immediately known, the star had been in poor health in recent years.  

In April of this year, he was hospitalized for a hairline fracture in his vertebra. In 1999, pneumonia struck. And in 1995, he was hospitalized for the removal of a nonmalignant tumor.  

According to the Associated Press, Matthau had suffered complications throughout his life including a heart attack in 1965 and a quadruple coronary bypass operation in 1975. 

However, even with such illnesses, Matthau never lost his sense of humor.  

He attributed his various illnesses to his eating habits: “If you eat only celery and lettuce, you won’t get sick.…I like celery and lettuce, but I like it with pickles, relish, corned beef, potatoes, peas. And I like Eskimo Pies, vanilla ice cream with chocolate covering,” said AP. 

As for his enduring appeal, Matthau was once asked how he wanted to remembered after his death. “What a lot of people say when they see me now, Mr. Matthau, thank you very much for your work. You’ve given a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.” 

It is not surprising then that fans were gathering by late morning on Saturday to place flowers on Matthau's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, fondly remembering the actor for his portrayals of usually rumpled, cantankerous characters.  

Matthau, who lived in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles, had two children, Jennie and David, by his first wife, Grace Geraldine Johnson, and a son, Charlie, by his second wife, former actress Carol Marcus, whom he wed in 1959.  

Born in 1920 as Walter Matasschanskayasky, Matthau grew up in poverty New York City's Lower East Side. He got his first taste of theater at age 11, while selling snacks for a small Yiddish theater company in his neighborhood. 

His mother, a Jewish garment worker who immigrated from Lithuania, raised him alone after his father left them. 

He left the city to serve with the US military in World War II, but returned to begin his acting career on Broadway. 

His first big-time Broadway show came in 1948, when he played in "Anne of a Thousand Days," but it was his 1965 appearance in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" that launched him into stardom. 

The next year, Matthau won an Oscar for best supporting actor in Billy Wilder's "The Fortune Cookie" -- a film that also created one of Hollywood's most enduring comedic teams by pairing Matthau with Jack Lemmon. 

Matthau and Lemmon performed together in films for the next 30 years. The film version of "The Odd Couple" (1968) became a classic, as well as a sequel they created in 1998, "The Odd Couple II." 

Lemmon and Matthau’s friendship extended from onscreen to personal; a relationship reflected by a statement released by Lemmon’s agent on the death of his friend. 

“I have just lost someone I've loved as a brother, as my closest friend and a remarkable human being. We have also lost one of the best damn actors we'll ever see,'' read the statement. 

The feeling was mutual. 

According to ABC online, In an interview with CNN, Matthau said of Lemmon, "when we were working, we always seemed to understand what we're thinking about.''  

Meanwhile, Lemmon once told CNN: "It was a very unusual relationship because right from the start it just clicked. There was nothing to it.''  

Lemmon, himself considered one of Hollywood's great film comedians, said Matthau's talents were underrated, calling him a "marvelous, wonderful actor.''  

Throughout his career, Matthau appeared in more than 50 films. His last appearance on the big screen was as the aging father of three sisters played by Diane Keaton, Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow in this year’s “Hanging Up”— (Various Sources) 


© 2000 Al Bawaba (

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