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James Karen, Legendary Actor Known For 'Poltergeist' And So Much More, Dead At 94

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You probably don't know his name, but you definitely know James Karen's face.

The prolific character actor, best known for his role as the unscrupulous developer Mr. Teague in 1982's Poltergeist, passed away in his Los Angeles home on Tuesday at the age of 94.

James Karen and Craig T. Nelson in 'Poltergeist'
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Over the course of his seven-decade career, Karen racked up over 200 acting credits across movies, television, and even video games. If you watch just about any of the most popular television shows from the 1970s, 80s, or 90s, you're guaranteed to see him pop up sooner or later.

Born Jacob Karnofsky on November 28, 1923, he was the son of Russian-born Jewish immigrants living in Pennsylvania. Karen took up acting after returning home from serving in the United States Air Force during WWII, studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York.

After starting out on Broadway, Karen moved on to television, starring as Dr. Burke in As the World Turns as well as playing the original Lincoln "Linc" Tyler on All My Children.

James Karen and Rhea Perlman in 'Cheers'
CBS Television Distribution

Over the 1970s and 80s, Karen quickly became one of the most recognizable faces that no one could name thanks to appearances on TV shows like Starsky & Hutch, Hawaii Five-O, the finale of Little House on the Prairie, M*A*S*H, Cheers, and more.

But it would be his roles in 1982's Poltergeist and 1985's Return of the Living Dead that he would become best-known for.

James Karen and Thom Matthews in 'Return of the Living Dead'
Orion Pictures

Karen once admitted that his role as Frank in Return of the Living Dead was the most fun he ever had working as an actor. He revealed in an interview that he was actually responsible for his character's crematorium death scene, saying,

I helped to write the ending for my character, Frank. It was the deal where he figures out he's becoming a zombie and decides to incinerate himself in the crematorium. 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 and Bea Arthur on 'Golden Girls'

He continued acting right up until his death, appearing on TV shows like Golden Girls, Murphy Brown, Coach, Touched by an Angel, Seinfeld, and American Dad!, as well as movies like Wall Street, Piranha, Mulholland Dr., and The Pursuit of Happyness. His final completed role was in the horror-comedy Cynthia, released this past August.

As news of his death began to spread, tributes began pouring in, showing just how significant a legacy he left behind.

His longtime friend and film historian, Bruce Goldstein, confirmed his cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by respiratory problems. James Karen is survived by his wife, Alba Francesca, his son Reed from his first marriage, and two grandchildren.

RIP James Karen, Hollywood's truly lost one of its unsung best.

Sources: The Hollywood Reporter; DVDTalk; IMDB