Hollywood lost a legend and comedic genius, who also appeared in one of the greatest gambling and poker movies of all time. As a kid, I knew George Segal from his role as a fashion magazine editor in "Just Shoot Me" sitcom from NBC. Most recently, Segal appeared in the sitcom "The Goldbergs."
"Aw! RIP #GeorgeSegal," tweeted actress and poker player Jen Tilly. "I used to play poker with him at Norby Walters weekly game. Just a great vibrant man with a wonderfully dry sense of humor."
Segal got his start in Hollywood in the early 1960s, but he first made a name for himself with critics during "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", directed by Mike Nichols.
In the 1970s, Segal appeared in other gems such as "Where's Poppa", "The Owl and the Pussycat" and "The Hot Rock". Although originally pegged as a comedic actor, Segal showed off his diversity with dramatic roles in other films such as "Blume in Love", "Born to Win", and "Terminal Man."
Ben Stiller tweeted, "My personal favorite George Segal movie is 'The Hot Rock'. What a career. What a nice man, what an iconic cool funny 70's movie star."
In 1974, Robert Altman cast Segal in a new film (and screenplay penned by Joseph Walsh) he wanted to make about the gambling world in Southern California. Many film critics dismiss "California Split" as a minor film in Altman's vast canon of epic films, however, poker players identify with the film. California Split not really a poker movie per se. Sure, there's many poker scenes, but it's more about the friendship and camaraderie that two degenerate gamblers -- Segal and Elliot Gould -- share with each other as they chase their losses and try to get that one big score to settle their debts.
Altman's film takes Segal from the card rooms of Los Angeles to the racetracks of Southern California. The two buddies -- Bill (Segal) and Charlie (Gould) head up to Reno, Nevada to play in a high-stakes poker game after Bill sells some of his possessions in order to make a stake for the game. One of the participants is Amarillo Slim, playing himself, in one of the better scenes in "California Split". Bill crushes the nosebleed stakes and win $18,000 (in 1970s bucks, which would be worth $122,000 in 2021 dollars). Bill decides to go full-blown degen and press his winnings. Alas, his run good continues and he continues his heater playing craps, black jack and roulette. After running up their initial stake to $82,000 (that's worth $540K with inflation), an emotionally-drained Bill determines that's he's had enough. They split the winnings and Bill heads back to SoCal, while Charlie presumably heads back into the pits.
"California Split" might be nearly 50 years old, but Altman's film captures degen gambling at its core. If you've ever had a best friend, or partner in crime that you went to Vegas with or on other gambling trips, then you'll totally understand the sincere bond between two road gamblers.
In the 1980s, Hollywood lost its luster for the old guard of 1960s and 1970s cinematic leading men. Segal made a comeback of sorts in the 1990s with smaller roles in iconic films such as "Flirting with Disaster", "The Cable Guy", and "Three Days to Vegas".
However, he hit a home run with "Just Shoot Me" a TV sitcom about the wacky characters in the fashion world.
Most recently, Segal acted in "The Goldbergs" as Pops Solomon.
"A career that kept going for 50+ years because he loved it and he was great at it," said actor Michael McKean.
"Though he was a brilliant comedian, when I think of movies like 'California Split' or 'Blume In Love' or 'Terminal Man' or 'Born to Win'... I think of George Segal as one of our most underrated and versatile actors," said Larry Charles, creator of Cheers.
RIP George Segal. A true legend.