Oscar-winning actor Walter Matthau -- cantankerous funnyman par excellence -- died early today at a Santa Monica, Calif., hospital. He was 79.
Cause of death was a heart attack. The star had been in poor health in recent years. In April, he was hospitalized for a hairline fracture in his vertebra. In 1999, pneumonia struck. And in 1995, he was hospitalized for the removal of a nonmalignant tumor.
Matthau made his film debut as a villain in 1955 with "The Kentuckian." The actor came into comedic prominence in 1968 with "The Odd Couple" alongside his frequent partner-in-wisecracks Jack Lemmon. The pair’s onscreen collaboration continued for three more decades and includes films such as "Kotch" (1971), "Buddy Buddy" (1981) and "Grumpy Old Men" (1993).
Besides earning two Tony Awards early in his stage career, Matthau won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for "The Fortune Cookie" (1966) and a Golden Globe for best actor in 1975 for "The Sunshine Boys."
The actor was most recently seen in the sibling comedy "Hanging Up" (2000).