They say it’s not a tragedy when an old person dies. That is only partly true. Because when the world loses an artist with immense talent, it’s still tragic when they pass, no matter how old they are.
Eli Wallach was such an artist. For almost six decades—since 1956—his roles on the big screen affirmed the moviegoers’ belief in movies as an art form. Especially considering the huge load of crap that these days is coming out of Hollywood, managing successfully hide the good stuff as a needle in a haystack, you could always be confident that when Eli Wallach was in a movie, it was worth watching.
What makes him even more spectacular is the fact that he never knew when to stop. And—he didn’t have to. Having played in his last role in Wall Street 2, at the age of 95, he would’ve almost made the oldest active actor in the world—if only Guinness World Records hadn’t forgotten about him when in December 2013 they presented the title to Radu Beligan, a Romanian actor. Beligan at the time was 95, but Wallach already 98—and no one out there is to say that Wallach had ended his career; maybe there just weren’t roles interesting enough for him.
Completely unfairly, Wallach never won an Oscar. But in 2010, the Academy honored him with the Governors Award for lifetime achievement. In his acceptance speech, aside from jokes, Wallach said: “I don’t act to live—I live to act.”
That is what makes a great artist—to put himself completely in what he does.