James Karen, an actor known for hundreds of iconic film roles, passed away on Tuesday, according to a report by The Hollywood Reporter.
Karen died in his home in Los Angeles, California, according to his wife, Alba. His cause of death was not specified, though the actor was 94 years old.
Karen had one of the most recognizable faces in film, with over 204 credits on his IMDb page. One of his classic roles was as Mr. Teague, the developer in Poltergeist. He also had classic roles on movies like The Return of the Living Dead and The China Syndrome, as well as an appearance on the finale of Little House on the Prairie.
"People don't know my name, but they know my face because I've done so damn much work," Karen once joked, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The actor worked in the entertainment industry for seven total decades. He was known for playing authority figures, ranging from stoic and righteous to evil and scheming. However, on occasion he showed his range beyond the typecasting.
Karen was born in November of 1923 as Jacob Karnofsky. He was the son of Russian-born Jewish immigrants in rural Pennsylvania. As a young man, he remembered going to the movies with his father, who could not read the titles on the silent films at the time.
Karen studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, under the legendary teacher Sanford Meisner. Before moving to the screen, he worked on Broadway. He made his debut in the original 1947 production of Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire, as the understudy to Karl Malden. He even worked with Marlon Brando on the project.
Before long, Karen was doing more widely broadcast work. He had a prolific career in commercials, both on TV and the radio. In 1958, he married folk singer and zither player Susan Reed. The two had one son named Reed Karen, whose godfather was the legendary Buster Keaton. They divorced in 1967.
Karen took a role in ABC's soap opera All My Children in 1970. He originated the character Lincoln Tyler, a rich attorney who had a long tenure on the series. In 1986, he married his second wife, Alba, who was with him until the end.
Karen did some of his most memorable work starting in the 1980s. His roles are too numerous to list, but he is one of the most prolific actors of our time. He was an avid collaborator — in 2006, he told an interviewer that he had helped to write an ending for hi character in The Return of the Living Dead.
"It was the deal where he figures out he's becoming a zombie and decides to incinerate himself in the crematorium," he said. "He kisses his wedding ring as he goes in. It was a very emotional scene, but it also got me out of being one of the rain-drenched zombies milling around outside the place at the end of the film. I didn't really want to do all that muddy stuff."0comments