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Obituaries

Lewis Arquette; Actor, Comic Continued Family Trade

February 13, 2001|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lewis Arquette, character actor, comedian and the connecting generation in a long Arquette acting lineage, has died.

Arquette died Saturday of congestive heart failure at UCLA Medical Center. He was 65.

The son of the late Cliff "Charley Weaver" Arquette, Lewis Arquette is probably best remembered for his recurring role from 1978 to 1981 as J.D. Pickett in the television series "The Waltons."

But like his father, whose indelible shtick was a staple on Jack Parr's "Tonight Show," Arquette was an eclectic entertainer, working as an actor and director in drama as well as comedy on stage and in film and television, and as a musician and even a puppeteer.

He also took great pride in encouraging the careers of his progeny: actors Rosanna, Richmond, Patricia, Alexis and David Arquette, and Patricia's young son Enzo.

"I've always been a kind of quadruple threat guy, doing anything I could do," he said in 1996.

His eclectic interests extended into genealogy, and in doing the family tree, he traced his roots to explorer Meriwether Lewis--for whom he was named--of the 1804-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Arquette was the grandson of a vaudeville team, Arquette and Clark, also billed as the Funny Hebrew and the Singing Soubrette.

Born in Chicago, young Lewis grew up in Hollywood, where his father patented his Charley Weaver persona for "The Tonight Show" and later "Hollywood Squares." After graduating from Hollywood High School, Lewis went to New York to study at Lee Strasberg's famed acting studio; Marilyn Monroe was a classmate.

Arquette worked as a waiter while acting on the New York stage. He also did summer stock and a Chicago variety show, then moved back to Los Angeles in the 1970s.

He was very adept at improvisation, working in the Committee and with Viola Spolin, often called the mother of improv and theater games, and her son, Paul Sills.

Arquette worked with Sills' Story Theatre, which performed at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum and on Broadway in the early 1970s, and later with his Sills and Company.

Arquette, who once shared a Dramalogue award for ensemble performance, won critical praise from The Times for directing "Spokesong" at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1986 and for his acting in "The Arrangement," a four-character drama at Hollywood's Lex Theatre in 1993.

A versatile character actor, Arquette appeared on television as a police commissioner in "Matlock," as a customs agent in "L.A. Law," as a priest in "Beverly Hills 90210" and as appliance merchant Leapin' Larry on "Seinfeld."

In films, Arquette appeared in "Johnny Got His Gun," "The China Syndrome," "Tango and Cash" and "Waiting for Guffman." Last year he voiced "Escape from Monkey Island" and acted in "Little Nicky," "Best in Show" and "Ready to Rumble."

In addition to his five children, Arquette is survived by a brother, a sister and two grandchildren.

Services were private. The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Organ Donation Center at UCLA Medical Center, in care of Dr. Ronald W. Busuttil.

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