NEW YORK (AP) — As a masterful character actor and early product of postwar, Method-style theater, Eli Wallach wore countless faces, disappearing into them all. But he was always propelled — in acting and in life — by a mischievousness and an abiding playfulness that made him a tireless performer, an enduring family man and, of course, one immortal scoundrel.
“I never lost my appetite for acting,” Wallach wrote in his 2005 memoir “The Good, the Bad, and Me,” named after his most famous film. “I feel like a magician.”
Wallach died Tuesday evening from natural causes after 98 years of life, 66 years of marriage and some 100 films, including several he made in his 90s. His son, Peter Wallach, confirmed his death Wednesday.
The versatile, raspy-voiced actor was a mainstay of Tennessee Williams’ plays (he won a Tony Award for “The Rose Tattoo” in 1951) and an original member of the Actors Studio in the early days of Method acting. But the most notable credit in his prolific career was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” in which he played the rascally Mexican outlaw Tuco.
As the Ugly of the title, he stole Sergio Leone’s 1966 spaghetti Western from the Good, Clint Eastwood, with lines like: “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”
“Everywhere I go, someone will recognize me from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and start whistling the theme song,” he said in a 2003 interview, referring to Ennio Morricone’s famous score. “I can feel when it’s going to happen.”
Wallach never won an Oscar, but he was given an honorary Academy Award in 2010, hailed as the “quintessential chameleon.”
“I’ve played more bandits, thieves, killers, warlords, molesters and Mafiosi than you could shake a stick at,” Wallach said, accepting the award from Eastwood.
Wallach’s personal life, he added, was more placid and law-abiding: He loved collecting antique clocks, watching tennis and telling stories.