Walter Matthau

October 1, 1920 - July 1, 2000

Saturday July 1 11:04 AM ET

Actor Walter Matthau Dead at 79

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Walter Matthau, whose hang-dog face and perpetually grouchy, slouchy demeanor transformed him from playing bad guys into one of America's best-loved comic actors, died on Saturday. He was 79.

A spokeswoman for St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said Matthau was brought into the hospital early Saturday morning in ``full cardiac arrest'' and was pronounced dead at 4:42 a.m. EDT.

Matthau was best known for his role as perpetually unkempt sportswriter Oscar Madison, a part he first played on Broadway in 1966, then reprised in a 1968 film opposite his lifelong friend Jack Lemmon.

In the meantime, he won an Academy Award as best supporting actor in Billy Wilder's 1966 film ``The Fortune Cookie,'' cementing his status as one of Hollywood's top comedic stars. Matthau once said that with a face like his, he was destined in Hollywood to be either a villain or a comic

``I don't look like an actor,'' he said in one interview. ''I could be anyone from a toilet attendant to a business executive. Most people look at me on the street and say, 'Who the hell is that guy? Was I in the Army with him?'''

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