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.