The Heart-Wrenching Death Of Alan Arkin

Alan Arkin, veteran movie and theater actor, has died. He was 89 years old (via People). His sons, Adam, Matthew, and Anthony, provided a statement on their family's behalf:  "Our father was a uniquely talented force of nature, both as an artist and a man. A loving husband, father, grand and great grandfather, he was adored and will be deeply missed."

Alan Arkin's longstanding, versatile, and venerable career took off in the late 1960s with comedic roles in "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming" (1966), and intense dramatic performances in "Wait Until Dark" (1967) and "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" (1968). Arkin always excelled in a wide variety of performances, including the cowardly nihilist Yossarian in 1970's adaptation of Heller's acclaimed novel, "Catch-22," a philosophizing, heroin-snorting grandpa in 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine" aside Steve Carell, a Hollywood producer turned fake filmmaker in 2012's stellar "Argo," and one half of an elderly buddy duo in Netflix's "The Kominsky Method" (2018-2021) with Michael Douglas. As IMDb shows us, Arkin was nominated for numerous awards over his career, and garnered an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) award.

A versatile, venerable career in comedy and drama

Many of Arkin's films retain a stage-like quality, and this makes sense given Arkin's early attraction towards theater, as well as involvement in "The Second City" comedy improv group in the early 1960s (the Chicago-based outfit that formed the kindling of "Saturday Night Live"). As Turner Classic Movies explains, Arkin transitioned from improv to theater, and from theater to film. He was very much a craftsman and non-celebrity, as he described in an interview with CBS "Eye to Eye" (available on YouTube), stating that he loved it when acting was "doing you" rather than the other way around, and expressing exasperation with "the same neurosis" that all Hollywood celebrities share.

Born Alan Wolf Arkin in 1934 in Brooklyn, New York, to a family of two teachers, Arkin knew that he wanted to be an actor by age five, as Notable Biographies explains. When his family moved out to Los Angeles when Arkin was 11, his interests grew to encompass music. He studied drama at Los Angeles City College, and later Los Angeles State College, before continuing his studies back east at Bennington College in Vermont.

A once-international music star in The Tarriers

For an introverted and quiet child such as Arkin, the stage, and the attention he received on it, proved a form of salvation. As reported by The Guardian, Arkin said, "I had this sense that I didn't exist. My parents were wonderful people in many ways, but they weren't affectionate. I don't remember ever being touched by either one. I felt ignored to the point where I didn't even exist — so acting was my lifeline to not feeling like I was being obliterated. For many years, the only place I felt alive was on stage."

On CBS "Eye to Eye" (on YouTube) Arkin recounts his side sojourn to "earn some pocket money" by joining The Tarriers. Their unintentional 1956 hit song "The Banana Boat Song," which was inspired by the same source as Harry Belafonte's "Day-O," became internationally known. Arkin toured around the world, but after experiencing an existential crisis about his life's direction one night on stage, quit the band and returned to acting. 

A lifelong believer in mysticism and meditation

Arkin remained active in his career during his late life. He voiced the reclusive author J.D. Salinger on "BoJack Horseman," and played Norman Newlander in the aforementioned "The Kominsky Method" (2018-2021), the latter of which Arkin left after two seasons despite earning two Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations for the role. As The Decider quotes, Arkin said, "Acting is so ingrained in my physiognomy and the channels of my brain that I find myself missing aspects of the business. But I don't need it any more. I should probably get over it."

Surprisingly so, given his matter-of-face public persona, Arkin was very much interested in mysticism throughout his life. As The Guardian reported, Arkin had a life-changing encounter with his 1969 film stand-in, a man Arkin merely named "John" in his 2020 memoir "Out of My Mind." Arkin said, "My devotion to his teachings became virtually ironclad," and in the memoir described his beliefs in everything from past lives to faith healing to "eastern philosophy" and meditation. As it turns out, "John" might have been John Battista, an ashram-dwelling yogi charged with sexually abusing women in 1993 while they were in trance-like states. To this, Arkin indirectly replied, "I could hardly leave my room for about six months. I found myself saying, 'Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater'."

Arkin is survived by his wife of over 25 years, Suzanne Newlander Arkin, and three children.