Screen legend Eli Wallach dies at 98

Eli Wallach, the raspy-voiced character actor who starred in dozens of movies and Broadway plays over a remarkable and enduring career and earned film immortality as a conniving, quick-on-the-draw bandit in the classic western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, has died.

Screen legend Eli Wallach dies at 98

He was 98.

Wallach and his wife, Anne Jackson, were a formidable duo on the stage, appearing in several plays dating back to the 1940s. He won a Tony award for his supporting role in Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo in 1951, was an original member of the Actors Studio, and was still starring in films well into his 90s.

Wallach is best remembered for his role as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In the Sergio Leone spaghetti western, Clint Eastwood (The Good), Lee Van Cleef (The Bad), and Wallach (The Ugly) attempt to outwit and outshoot each other in pursuit of a trove of gold coins buried in a Civil War cemetery.

Wallach played a menacing yet loveable outlaw who had committed every crime in the book: “murder, armed robbery... inciting prostitution, kidnapping, extortion... rape”, as the executioner intoned in one famous scene.

Wallach’s character had several memorable lines, including, “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk”, after being confronted by a rival gunslinger.

“Everywhere I go, someone will recognise me from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and start whistling the theme song,” he said in a 2003 interview.

“I can feel when it’s going to happen. I smile and wave, and they wave back.”

Afterwards, his relationship with Leone soured. Leone had promised him a role in the western Duck, You Sucker, but the studio wanted Rod Steiger. Wallach had already cancelled another project to take on the role and was angered by losing the part.

Wallach also starred in the steamy Baby Doll (1956), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Misfits (1961), and The Godfather III (1990), in which he played a murderous mobster who dies after eating poisoned cannoli.

Wallach was born in Brooklyn on December 7, 1915, the son of an immigrant candy store owner. He dabbled in dramatics in school, where he also became a table-tennis champion.

More in this section

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox