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Actor Mark Margolis, murderous drug kingpin on ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Better Call Saul,’ dies at 83


AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Veteran character actor Mark Margolis, who had a breakout role as a mobster in “Scarface” but became best known decades later for his indelible, fearsome portrayal of a vindictive former drug kingpin in TV’s “Breaking Bad,” has died. He was 83.

The actor died on Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City following a short illness, according to a statement from his son, Morgan Margolis.

Margolis was nominated for an Emmy in 2012 for outstanding guest actor in “Breaking Bad” as Hector “Tio” Salamanca, the murderous elderly don who was unable to speak following a stroke. But this actor did not need dialogue; he communicated via facial expressions and the sometimes menacing use of a barhop bell taped to his wheelchair.

Much of his character’s backstory later played out on “Better Call Saul,” the prequel in which he guest-starred from 2016 to 2022. Margolis has said he based his portrayal of the kingpin partly on his own experience caring for a relative who’d suffered a stroke.

On social media, admirers shared scenes of Hector — especially of his explosive demise. Margolis was hailed on the official X (formerly Twitter) account of “Breaking Bad” as an “immensely talented” actor “who — with his eyes, a bell, and very few words — turned Hector Salamanca into one of the most unforgettable characters in the history of television.” And the show’s star, Bryan Cranston, praised his co-actor on Instagram, saying he was “fun and engaging off the set, and (in the case of ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Your Honor’) intimidating and frightening on set. His quiet energy belied his mischievous nature and curious mind.”

Margolis also was known for many film roles, particularly in the films of Darren Aronofsky: “Requiem for a Dream,” The Fountain,” “Noah,” “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler” and “Pi.” But his breakout film role was mobster Alberto “The Shadow” in Brian de Palma’s 1983 “Scarface,” opposite Al Pacino’s Tony Montana, who famously shoots and kills Alberto before the latter can detonate a car bomb and kill an innocent woman and her kids.

Other film roles included “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Gone Baby Gone,” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” and “Stand Up Guys.”

Margolis was born in Philadelphia in 1939 and studied acting in New York City with noted teacher Stella Adler. “I used to say, if God is a woman, this is him,” Margolis said in a 2022 interview about Adler.

Focusing on the stage in his early career, he appeared in dozens of shows off-Broadway, including at the Public Theater in New York, and on Broadway in the short-lived “Infidel Caesar,” based on Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” but set in Cuba. “The play crashed in about four weeks,” Margolis mused in the 2022 interview. “It was beautiful but ahead of its time.” He also founded Blue Dome, a touring theater troupe.

Though best known for “Breaking Bad” and “Better Called Saul,” Margolis’ many TV roles also included “The Equalizer,” “Oz,” “American Horror Story: Asylum,” “Crossing Jordan,” “Californication,” and “The Affair.” He most recently appeared in five episodes of Showtime’s “Your Honor” as a Mafia kingpin.

His roles on the big screen spanned some 70 movies, most recently Matthew Coppola’s 2022 “Broken Soldier” with Sophie Turner and the late Ray Liotta.

Margolis is survived by his wife of 61 years, Jacqueline Margolis, and his son Morgan, who is CEO of Knitting Factory Entertainment. The family plans to have a private memorial and funeral.

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