His sons, Adam, Matthew, and Anthony, announced the news in a joint statement. “Our father was a uniquely talented force of nature, both as an artist and a man,” they said. “A loving husband, father, grand and great-grandfather, he was adored and will be deeply missed.”
In his first significant role in a feature, Arkin received a rare best actor Oscar nomination for work in a comedy when he played a Russian sailor whose submarine is marooned off the coast of a New England fishing village in Norman Jewison’s The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming (1966).
Two years later, he moved audiences and earned another Oscar nom for portraying the lonely deaf mute John Singer in the poignant The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968), Robert Ellis Miller’s adaptation of the Carson McCullers novel that was filmed in Selma, Alabama.
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For playing the foul-mouthed, heroin-snorting grandfather Edwin Hoover in the road movie Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Arkin was rewarded with an Oscar that those in Hollywood recognized was long overdue. (At age 72, he was among the oldest to win the supporting actor trophy.)
The two directors [Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris] didn’t want to give me the job because I was too young and vital. It’s a nice way to not get a part,” he told Robert Osborne during an interview at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. “But after they couldn’t find anyone for about six months, they said, ‘Well, we might as well go back to Alan Arkin.’ By that time, I had gotten old.”
Arkin then received a fourth Academy Award nom for his work as a jaded movie producer who makes a bogus film to save the hostages in Iran — and got bonus points for his line “Argo fuck yourself” — in the best picture winner Argo (2012).
Arkin first made a name for himself on Broadway in 1963 when he won a Tony Award for playing David Kolowitz, a struggling actor under the thumb of his parents, in Enter Laughing, based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Carl Reiner.
A year later, he starred opposite Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson in the long-running Broadway comedy hit Luv, directed by Mike Nichols.
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Like Nichols, Arkin honed his comedy chops during two years with the famed Second City improvisational troupe in Chicago. He was winningly funny on the big screen as seen in the madcap The In-Laws, in which he played a mild-mannered dentist opposite CIA operative Peter Falk; in Rafferty and the Gold-Dust Twins (1975), as an L.A. driving instructor driven to madness; in Freebie and the Bean (1974) as a corrupt Mexican American cop opposite buddy James Caan; and as a B-movie director in the amiable Hearts of the West (1975).
Arkin, though, was able to shed his silly side in films like the psychological thriller Wait Until Dark (1967), when he played an evil thug menacing poor Audrey Hepburn, and Catch-22, in which he starred as a pilot struggling to maintain a grip on his sanity in Nichols’ adaptation of Catch-22 (1970).
Arkin also portrayed Sigmund Freud in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) and was a bored suburbanite in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990), a wise mentor in The Rocketeer (1991), one of the pressured salesmen.