Prolific actor James Karen has passed away, He was 94-years old. Karen, who is probably best-known for his work in Poltergeist, Return of the Living Dead, Invaders from Mars, China Syndrome, and Wall Street, to name a few, has 204 acting credits on IMDb. The actor used to say that nobody knew his name, but everybody knew his face because he "did so much damn work." He may be known to many as "that guy," but Karen left a huge mark on the entertainment world in his lengthy career.
James Karen was born Jacob Karnofsky in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and was the son of Russian-born Jewish immigrants. After a stint in the United States Air Force during World War II, U.S. Congressman Daniel J. Flood convinced Karen to get into acting, which resulted in him studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York. Karen was first recognized for his acting talents in the late 1940s when he was asked to understudy Karl Malden, who played lead character Harold "Mitch" Mitchell in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire.
After a stint on Broadway, James Karen moved to the land of television starring as Dr. Burke on As the World Turns and was the original Lincoln Tyler on All My Children. He had a recurring role on Eight Is Enough, which is another role that led to Karen becoming very recognizable over the years. However, it was his roles in Poltergeist and Return of the Living Dead that he is best-known for today.
James Karen enjoyed working on The Return of the Living Dead and even helped write the ending for his character who runs the medical warehouse next to the cemetery. In his final scene, the character finds out that he's becoming a zombie, so he decides to incinerate himself in the crematorium, which was all the idea of Karen. Karen had this to say about working on Return of the Living Dead.
"He kisses his wedding ring as he goes in. It was a very emotional scene, but it also got me out of being one of the rain-drenched zombies milling around outside the place at the end of the film. I didn't really want to do all that muddy stuff."
James Karen continued to act up until this year with a role in the low-budget Cynthia. Other roles include episodes of Seinfeld, The Larry Sanders Show, Dallas, The Golden Girls, L.A. Law, Murphy Brown, The Waltons, and many, many more. The same can be said about Karen's film career as well, as it seems like the guy never took a day off in his long career. He was also supposed to appear in 2006's Superman Returns, but his part was later written out of the final cut. The Hollywood Reporter was the first to report the news of James Karen's death. Rest in Peace, James Karen.
So sad to hear of James Karen's passing today. He gave the horror genre some incredibly memorable characters. pic.twitter.com/VyYE22JMmp— Fangoria (@FANGORIA) October 24, 2018
From Frankenstein meets the Spacemonster to Return of The Living Dead and beyond, he made an unforgettable impression on the genre. Thanks for the horror, James Karen! pic.twitter.com/fR6sufqjaD— Boys, Bears & Scares (@BoysBearsScares) October 24, 2018
From Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster to Return of the Living Dead, James Karen gave the world endless entertainment and will be missed.— John E.L. Tenney (@JohnELTenney) October 24, 2018
RIP James Karen. #JamesKaren#ReturnoftheLicingDead#HorrorMovies#Horror#Hollywood#RIPpic.twitter.com/KcdviFiuog
Not only was James Karen a great actor who gave me hope to be as good as him, he was always happy and positive. I was just talking about him the other day and feel very heavyhearted. I love you James. RIP. pic.twitter.com/fwTR2z9pVs— Linnea Quigley (@LinneaQuigley) October 24, 2018
Only got to meet the wonderful James Karen once: it was at Hollywood Book & Poster, the legendary movie memorabilia store he frequented. He was looking for “that photo of Steven directing me in POLTERGEIST.” See below. Loved him even more in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. RIP, sir. pic.twitter.com/QLkMTZCB5T— The Lauzirikadook (@Lauzirika) October 24, 2018
Jimmy Karen was my friend, and it was a privilege to hear his stories. His joie de vivre was contagious. I hope this obituary does him justice, though I hoped I would never have to write it. I still can't believe he's gone. https://t.co/iT80qDRley#JamesKaren#MaltinOnMoviespic.twitter.com/lbvDByK5am— Leonard Maltin (@leonardmaltin) October 24, 2018
RIP James Karen. Former podcast guest and good friend. Continued working into his 90's. Just chatted with him on the phone a few days ago. He was the same Jimmy. Friendly and charming. pic.twitter.com/wLK0pgzZtm— Gilbert Gottfried (@RealGilbert) October 24, 2018
RIP James Karen, father of one of Carla's many many children on Cheers pic.twitter.com/kD1X5i3eya— Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) October 24, 2018
I greatly enjoyed working with James Karen as well as hearing his singular remembrances of knowing Buster Keaton. Expect to hear many headstones references today... https://t.co/QdAEa1a2A2 via— Alan Spencer (@MrAlanSpencer) October 24, 2018
Bit of sad news for POLTERGEIST fans. Actor James Karen, whom you'll remember moved the cemetery, but left the bodies in Cuesta Verde as land developer Mr. Teague, has passed away at 94. https://t.co/3MFiZHFP72#Poltergeist#JamesKaren#MrTeaguepic.twitter.com/mHbZQWWOGa— Amblin (@amblin) October 24, 2018
I watched Return of the Living Dead for the first time in a very long time just a few weeks ago. One of the first things I noted this time around was just how amazingly good James Karen, Clu Gulager and Don Calfa were. They made the film a genre classic. #RipJamesKaren— Tom Vaughan (@tomvaughan) October 24, 2018
Saddened to learn of the passing of James Karen. A talented actor and great guy.— Joe Mantegna (@JoeMantegna) October 24, 2018
Worked w/ him on DARK/STORMY NIGHT. He'd take me to lunch at his favorite place Joe Montegna's Taste Chicago. He'd tell show biz stories, always relaxed, always laughs. Genuine, like him.— Larry Blamire (@larryblamire) October 24, 2018
He once told me "I'm not really afraid of dying." He meant it.
RIP, my friend. #JamesKarenpic.twitter.com/v3dXbFkvZn
The SAG Awards mourns the loss of actor James Karen. Our thoughts go out to his fans and loved ones at this time. https://t.co/ulVXteaM03— SAG Awards® (@SAGawards) October 24, 2018