'Odd Couple' Star Carole Shelley Dead at 79

Carole Shelley, who starred in the original Broadway production of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, died Friday. She was 79.

According to Deadline, Shelley died after a battle with cancer at her Manhattan home.

Shelley was born in London and made her Broadway debut in 1965 production of The Odd Couple with Art Carney and Walter Matthau. She played Gwendolyn Pigeon, one of the English sisters who are Oscar and Felix's upstairs neighbors. Shelley later reprised the role in the 1968 movie with Matthau and Jack Lemmon and in the original TV series with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. Shelley and Monica Evans, who played Gwendolyn's sister, were the only two actors to appear in the original stage production, movie and TV series.

Outside The Odd Couple, Shelley appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. Some of her credits include The Boston Strangler (1968), Quiz Show (1994), Jungle 2 Jungle (1997), The Super (1991) and Little Noises (1991). She made her film debut in 1949 with Give Us This Day and The Cure For Love. Her final appearance was in a 2009 short called The Queen of Greenwich Village.

Earlier this year, Shelley made a cameo appearance as a theater hand in the opening skit of John Mulaney's Radio City Music Hall Netflix special.

On the stage, she earned her first Tony Award nomination for Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular in 1975. In 1979, she won a Tony for her performance in the original production of The Elephant Man. Shelley played Mrs. Kendal, an English actress who befriended John Merrick.

"I've learned a lot in playing her. So much of what I've been working toward in the past few years — the effort to achieve stillness, spareness, clarity in my acting — seems to have come together in Mrs. Kendall," Shelley said in a 1979 New York Times interview. "She's been quite an extraordinary influence in my life. I love the role. My absolute gut reaction on reading it was that I had to do the play, no matter what."

"I still love light comedy, by the way..I play it with the same intensity I'd give to Lady Macbeth," Shelley continued. "The energy is the same, the truth is the same. The wonderful thing about Mrs. Kendall is that she runs the gamut. It's lovely to have it all in one role."

Shelley's other Broadway credits include Wicked, Stepping Out, Show Boat, Cabaret, Billy Elliot the Musical and A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.

Shelley also voiced characters in the Disney movies The Aristocats (1970), Robin Hood (1973) and Hercules (1997).


Photo credit: Paramount Pictures