Remembering Alan Arkin, an Actor Who Could Literally Do It All

Arkin died this week at the age of 89

Alan Arkin
Alan Arkin in 2008.
Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

There are a number of actors who have amassed careers that span lauded performances across multiple decades. When it comes to Alan Arkin, who died on Thursday at the age of 89, it’s jaw-dropping to see the range of work he was capable of across his career. I’ve been watching Arkin for most of my life; I can remember my parents showing me the 1967 film Wait Until Dark — in which Arkin plays the antagonist — when I was young, and I believe I saw The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming which brought him the first of four Oscar nominations — at around the same time.

In the decades that followed, Arkin kept doing interesting work, ranging from his Oscar-nominated supporting roles in Argo and Little Miss Sunshine, the latter of which won him an Academy Award, to voicing J.D. Salinger in the animated series BoJack Horseman. And his onscreen roles were only part of a distinguished career; he was nominated for five Emmys, won a Tony Award for acting and was nominated for another for directing 1973’s The Sunshine Boys.

Arkin could play terrific dramatic roles — he’s chilling in Wait Until Dark, and he was terrific in the film adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross as well, among many others — but he also had brilliant comic timing. Consider a scene in 1993’s So I Married an Axe Murderer, in which he takes a fairly formulaic scene and turns it into something that’s hilarious on a few levels:

Arkin’s acclaimed work continued up through the present day, with his role on The Kominsky Method, in which he was nominated for multiple Emmys and Golden Globes. For well over half a century, Arkin embodied dependable, interesting performances across a host of styles and genres. He will be sorely missed on screens large and small.

Why Was There a Little Hammer for Smashing Car Windows in the Oscars Gift Bags?
The weirdest party favor for the weirdest Academy Awards

It’s also worth mentioning that Arkin was a talented director, both on stage and on screen. His first film, 1971’s Little Murders, remains a personal favorite, and in its portrayal of a chaotic and violent world, its satire cuts as deeply in 2023 as it did when it was first released. It’s one of countless ways his work will live on, resonating in unexpected ways for years to come.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.