Veteran Actor Eli Wallach Who Stole Hearts as “Tuco” Dies at 98

Actor Eli Wallach  Buick Regal/Flickr

Actor Eli Wallach
Buick Regal/Flickr



Veteran charactor actor Eli Wallach, well-known and loved dearly for his portrayal of the scrummy bandit Tuco in the ” The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” died at his New York home on Tuesday at the age of 98.

With a career spanning more than 60 years, Wallach was a method actor working well into his nineties. His most recent films were Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (2010) and Roman Polanski’s” The Ghost Writer” (2010), among others.

In an interview in 2010, Wallach said, “It’s what I wanted to do all my life,” as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

The son of Polish Jewish immigrants, Wallach was born on Dec. 7, 1915, in Brooklyn, NY. A champion stage actor, his first love was always theater. He debuted in the Broadway production, “Skydrift” in 1945. His memorable theater performances include Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real” and “The Rose Tattoo,” which got him a Tony Award in 1951.

Wallach’s first film was “Baby Doll,” in 1956, written by Williams and directed by Elia Kazan. He gave masterful performances in his other films such as “The Godfather Part 3,” “The Holiday,” “The Victors,” “Mystic River,” “Lord Jim” and “The Misfits.” 

Despite his consummate interpretations on and off Broadway, Wallach will always be remembered for his spaghetti westerns, namely, the “The Magnificent Seven” in 1960, as Calvera, the Mexican outlaw, and his superb portrayal as “the ugly” Tuco in Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” in 1966, with Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.

His Tuco is a vicious Mexican, who menacingly tells fellow bandit Clint Eastwood: “Whoever double-crosses me and leaves me alive, he understands nothing about Tuco.”

Perhaps his most famous lines in the film were in the scene where he is in the bathtub and is accosted by a man who talks nineteen to the dozen about the reasons why he wants to kill Tuco. In his reply, Tuco simply pulls out his gun, shoots the man and says, “If you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”

He also did “How the West Was Won” with Henry Fonda in 1962.

Wallach was a prolific performer who played diverse characters such as the Mafia mobster in “The Godfather Part 3” and the fiendish Mr Freeze in the television series “Batman.”

In 2010, Wallach was awarded an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar. He also scored Emmy nominations for “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “Nurse Jackie.”

His profile on the website of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences reads: “Wallach is the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.”

Wallach chronicled his life in his 2005 autobiography, “The Good, The Bad and Me: In My Anecdotage.” He leaves behind wife and actress, Anne Jackson, three children, Peter, Roberta, Katherine

Publicity photo of Eli Wallach for the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Source: Wikimedia Commons,

Publicity photo of Eli Wallach for the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Source: Wikimedia Commons,

and grandchildren.

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