Joshua Rich
May 28, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Fondly remembered as the fastidious divorce Felix Unger opposite Jack Klugman’s Überslob Oscar Madison on ABC’s groundbreaking 1970 — 75 sitcom ”The Odd Couple,” Tony Randall possessed a trademark comic dependability. His colleagues could always rely on him to get the job done; his audiences could always rely on him for a laugh — or a sinus-clearing honk.

In his 60-plus-year career, Randall, 84 — who died in New York City May 17 after a prolonged illness — starred in countless movies, theater productions, and TV series, all the while setting a standard for costars from Penny Marshall (who played dim bulb Myrna on brother Garry’s ”Odd Couple”) to David Hyde Pierce (who worked with Randall on 2003’s ”Down With Love”). ”To watch younger actors look at how precisely he worked and how prepared he was was inspiring,” says Peyton Reed, who directed the Emmy winner in ”Love,” an homage to Rock Hudson — Doris Day comedies like 1959’s ”Pillow Talk,” which also starred Randall. ”He was just always funny…a comedy machine.”

Born Leonard Rosenberg in Tulsa, Randall took on the clipped speech and prickly poise of a WASP — a persona that he played for years on the late-night couches of Johnny Carson (he’s said to have been ”The Tonight Show”’s most frequent guest), David Letterman, and Conan O’Brien, where he quipped about first-time fatherhood at 77. ”He was always very neat and tidy in his life,” says Penny Marshall, who found Randall as attentive — and amusing — as his characters. ”To take a straight line and bend it to make it funny was something he was great at.”


1981 — 83 Randall’s implicitly gay character on NBC’s ”Love, Sidney” was a TV breakthrough.

1983 Starred as himself in the black comedy ”The King of Comedy.”

1991 A lifelong stage patron, Randall founded New York City’s nonprofit National Actors Theatre.

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