As confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, actor Martin Landau—who won an Academy Award for his performance as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood—has died. Landau recently had a “brief stay” at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, but he died yesterday due to “unexpected complications.” He was 89.
Landau was born in Brooklyn in 1928, and while he was still a teenager, he got a job as a cartoonist for the Daily News. After a few years, though, he abruptly quit his job to follow his dream and become a theatrical actor, something he recognized many years later as a “crazy” idea. Crazy as it was, Landau auditioned at the Actors Studio in 1955, and out of more than 2,000 other aspiring actors, only he and one other person were accepted into the program—the other being Steve McQueen. Later, in a production of Middle Of The Night opposite Edward G. Robinson, Landau drew the eye Alfred Hitchcock, who was so impressed with Landau’s performance that he cast him in a pivotal role in North By Northwest. (He got to die by falling off of Mount Rushmore, an iconic death from classic Hollywood.)
Though working with Hitchcock gave Landau his breakout role, it wasn’t his first. He had minor roles before that in TV shows like Sugarfoot, Maverick, and The Big Story. After North By Northwest, he continued working in TV, appearing in Wagon Train, Bonanza, and The Twilight Zone. He was even offered the role of Spock on Star Trek, but he turned it down because “it would’ve been torturous” to play the emotionless Vulcan. It was no big loss for Landau anyway, though, as he landed a big role on the original Mission: Impossible TV series (and eventually got three Emmy nominations for it), but his time on that show was cut short over a contract dispute.
Landau’s career began to slow in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but he began to garner some actual prestige roles after Francis Ford Coppola cast him as Abe Karatz in Tucker: The Man And His Dream. Landau was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 1988 Oscars, and though he didn’t win, he did land another nomination in the next year for his role in Woody Allen’s Crimes And Misdemeanors. It wasn’t until Landau began collaborating with Tim Burton that he actually won an Oscar, getting the Best Supporting Actor trophy for his work as Bela Lugosi in the 1994 biopic Ed Wood. THR notes that Landau found a “kindred spirit” in Burton, who would later cast him in Sleepy Hollow and Frankenweenie.
In more recent years, Landau appeared in The X-Files, Rounders, and 9, and he earned multiple Emmy nominations for his work on Without A Trace. An acting teacher in addition to an actor and director, Landau reportedly taught with Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton, and Anjelica Huston.