George Segal, a banjo player turned actor who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 1966. ” and worked on the ABC sitcom “The Goldbergs” into his late 80s, died Tuesday in Santa Rosa, California, according to his wife.
In a tweet, Sonia Segal said, “The family is saddened to announce that George Segal passed away this morning due to complications from bypass surgery.” He was 87 years old when he died.
In the 1970s, when lighthearted adult comedies became popular, George Segal was best known as a comedic actor, becoming one of the biggest stars on television.
His most well-known role, however, was in the harrowing drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” ” is based on the acclaimed play by Edward Albee.
He was the last credited member of the small ensemble, all four of whom earned Academy Award nominations: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for leading roles, Sandy Dennis and Segal for supporting roles. The women received Oscar nominations, but the men did not.
He was best known to younger viewers for his roles as magazine publisher Jack Gallo on the long-running NBC series “Just Shoot Me” from 1997 to 2003, and grandfather Albert “Pops” Solomon on “The Goldbergs” since 2013.
“We have lost a legend today. It was a true joy to be a small part of George Segal’s incredible legacy,” said Adam Goldberg, who based the show on his own childhood in the 1980s. “I ended up casting the right person to play Pops by sheer luck. George, like my grandfather, had a mysterious light in his heart.”
In his heyday in Hollywood, he played a stuffy philosopher opposite Barbra Streisand’s freewheeling prostitute in 1970’s “The Owl and the Pussycat,” a cheating husband opposite Glenda Jackson in 1973’s “A Touch of Class,” a desperate gambler opposite Elliot Gould in director Robert Altman’s 1974 “California Split,” and a bank-robbing suburbanite opposite Jane Fonda in
Segal’s reputation as a handsome leading man had been gradually rising since his first film, 1961’s “The Young Doctors,” in which he had ninth billing. His first leading role was as a nefarious prisoner at a Japanese prison camp during World War II in the film “King Rat.”
He played Nick, one half of a young couple invited over for drinks and to see the bitterness and anger of a middle-aged couple, in the film “Virginia Woolf.”
Director Mike Nichols wanted someone who could win Elizabeth Taylor’s approval, and when Robert Redford turned him down, he turned to Segal.
Segal was “close enough to the young god he needed to be for Elizabeth, and clever enough and amusing enough to cope with all the embarrassment,” according to Nichols’ biographer Mark Harris.
Segal died on the same day as Taylor, ten years later.
He rode the film to stardom for a long time. Then, in the late 1970s, “Jaws” and other action films changed the face of Hollywood, and Segal’s light comedies fell out of favor.
In a 1998 interview, he said, “Then I got a little older.” “I began portraying urban fathers. And then that guy morphed into Chevy Chase, and there was nowhere to go after that.”
Segal’s films in the 1980s and 1990s were mostly forgettable, with the exception of the 1989 hit “Look Who’s Talking.” He went on to appear in two failed television dramas, “Take Five” and “Murphy’s Law.”
Then, in 1997, he became famous for his role as Gallo in the David Spade sitcom “Just Shoot Me,” in which he played a man who, despite his gruff demeanor, hires his daughter (Laura San Giacomo) and holds Spade’s useless office boy character on his payroll simply out of love for both.
Many people paid tribute to Segal on Tuesday night, including series co-star Brian Posehn.
Segal’s “Just Shoot Me” Posehn said, “I grew up watching him, absolute old school charm, effortless comedic timing.” “Working on scenes with him was a highlight of my career, but getting to know him and making the legend laugh was much better.”
Segal played the banjo for fun during his long acting career, becoming very accomplished on the instrument he first picked up as a teenager. He performed with the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band, which he founded.
Segal started entertaining at the age of eight, performing magic tricks for neighborhood children, and was born in 1934 in Great Neck, New York, the third son of a malt and hops dealer.
He went to a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania and formed “Bruno Linch and His Imperial Band” while at Columbia University, where he also played banjo.
Segal worked at the New York theater Circle in the Square on a non-salaried basis after graduation, doing everything from ticket taking to understudy acting. He studied drama with Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen and made his professional acting debut in Moliere’s “Don Juan” off-Broadway for one night.
He was drafted into the Army after appearing on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.” After being discharged from the army in 1957, he returned to the stage and started landing small film roles.
Before divorcing in 1981, Segal married Marion Sobel, a television story writer, and they had two children, Elizabeth and Polly.
He married his second wife, Linda Rogoff, in London in 1982 and was heartbroken when she died 14 years later of a stomach disease.
In 1999, he told an interviewer, “There was a time when I said, ‘It’s not adding up; I don’t get it anymore.'” “After Linda died, I became disinterested in everything. I just tried to make a living. Acting, like life, had become a chore.”
He finally reconnected with Sonia Schultz Greenbaum, his high school girlfriend from 45 years ago. They spoke on the phone for up to six hours at a time and married only a few months after reuniting.
“Just listening to me unload helped me get through the hardest days of my life,” Segal said in 1999. “It was awe-inspiring.”