Mark Margolis, the actor who rose to fame playing ruthless drug baron Hector Salamanca in Breaking Bad and its prequel Better Call Saul, died in New York City on Thursday at the age of 83, his son, Morgan Margolis, said.
A cause of death was not disclosed, but Morgan said his father died after a “short illness.”
Peter Gould, the writer-director for both AMC series, described Margolis on Friday as “brilliant, funny, a raconteur with a million stories. I miss him already.”
Margolis was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2012 for his portrayal of Salamanca, the cold-blooded patriarch of a drug gang who later suffered a stroke and was reduced to communicating with nothing but a bell and his chilling facial expressions.
He was initially set to star in just one episode of Breaking Bad—“but there’s no accounting for taste, and the fans took a fancy to me,” he once quipped to The Hollywood Reporter.
“Somebody asked me recently, ‘How did you manage to play such a horrible guy?’ and I said, ‘Have you talked to my friends?’ They’ll tell you I’m pretty miserable to begin with,” he told the outlet.
Margolis also starred in 1983’s Scarface alongside Al Pacino, and in several of Darren Aronofsky’s films, including Pi, Black Swan, and Requiem for a Dream.
But it was his portrayal of Salamanca that he described as his “most unusual” role, one that was partly inspired by his mother-in-law.
“I had a period of time for about eight years when [I] went down to visit my mother-in-law in a nursing home in Florida. She had had a stroke and was on feeding tubes and couldn’t talk. It was a horrible scene,” he told Hollywood.com in 2014. “But sometimes when we would come in, she used to get excited, because her brain was somewhat still working, and she could never talk, but there were these movements out of the left side of her mouth that I stole from her. I said to somebody, ‘It’s sort of an homage to Shirley, my mother-in-law.’ I take things from what I see in the world.”
The Jewish son of a wallpaper decorator and a factory worker, Margolis followed an unusual path to a career in acting. At one point, after studying drama under renowned teacher Stella Adler, he veered away from acting altogether and to manage a coffee shop in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Six months after he played the Bolivian henchman Alberto the Shadow in Scarface, he was forced to take a job in real estate just to make ends meet.
“I am just a journeyman actor,” he once said, adding that most of his life had been “a struggle.”
Margolis is survived by his wife Jacqueline, his son Morgan, and two grandchildren.