Celebrated film actor and Longhorn Eli Wallach died Tuesday night at the age of 98. Wallach graduated from the University of Texas in 1936 with a degree in history, but he was acting even then: He reportedly starred in a play alongside Walter Cronkite while they were both UT students.
Wallach didn’t make his first film appearance until 20 years later, when he co-starred in Elia Kazan’s “Baby Doll,” but it was the start of a career spanning over 50 years and over 100 films
Wallach starred in several classics of the Western genre. He was a magnificent adversary to the stars of “The Magnificent Seven,” but his most memorable role is undoubtedly in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” where he starred as the latter. His performance as Tuco, a traitorous treasure hunter, was a great showcase for Wallach’s slippery, confident charm. While Clint Eastwood’s gravelly gunfighting skills and Ennio Morricone’s iconic score may have achieved greater popularity, Wallach’s slimy, quick-witted performance is absolutely essential to the film.
In his lengthy career, Wallach co-starred among many legends of Hollywood, from Steve McQueen and Marilyn Monroe to Al Pacino and Kate Winslet, and worked with celebrated directors such Sergio Leone and Francis Ford Coppola. This speaks both to Wallach’s tireless work ethic and to the respect Hollywood accrued for his considerable skills.
Though Wallach never won an Academy Award for his work, he was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 2011 for “a lifetime’s worth of indelible screen characters,” a fitting descriptor of a storied and lengthy career brimming with exceptional performances.
Wallach is survived by his wife, notable film actress Anne Jackson, whom he was married to for 66 years, three children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was 98 years old, but his work was timeless.