James Karen, who is best known for his roles in Poltergeist and The Return of the Living Dead, died October 23 at his home in Los Angeles. His wife Alba confirmed the news. He was 94.
Born in Wikes-Barre, Pennsylvania to Russian immigrant parents, Karen served in the Air Force during World War II and then went on to attend the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York. in addition to his popular roles in film, he appeared on television and the stage. He got his break when he was the understudy for Karl Malden in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He also appeared in productions of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cactus Flower.
From there, he appeared on As the World Turns as well as All My Children and Eight is Enough. He starred in the 1979 miniseries Blind Ambition and then made appearances in various iconic sitcoms and television shows including The Golden Girls, The Jeffersons and the final TV movie for Little House on the Prairie.
A lifelong member of the Actors Studio, Karen would go on to appear in a variety of films. He had a role in The China Syndrome opposite Jane Fonda as well as Wall Street, which was one of three collaborations with Oliver Stone. He also appeared as Secretary of State William Rogers in his 1995 pic Nixon as well as the football drama Any Given Sunday in 1999. He had roles in noteworthy movies All the President’s Men (1976), John Cassavetes’ Opening Night (1977), Up Close & Personal (1996), Apt Pupil (1998), and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001). His other credits include the 2006 drama The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith as well as Bender and Cynthia.
His role in the classic horror pic Poltergeist became a memorable milestone for Karen. Co-written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, Karen portrayed the real-estate developer who built community of Cuesta Verde atop a cemetery.