Pop Culture

Published August 4, 2023

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

Margolis was nominated for an Emmy in 2012 for “Breaking Bad,” for outstanding guest actor

By Jocelyn Noveck in New York - The Associated Press

Veteran character actor Mark Margolis, who had a breakout role as a mobster in “Scarface” and became best known for playing vindictive former drug kingpin Hector Salamanca in TV's “Breaking Bad” and then in the prequel “Better Call Saul,” has died at age 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 “Breaking Bad,” for outstanding guest actor, as Hector, the elderly don of his drug clan who was unable to speak or walk due to a stroke. 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 drug kingpin partly on his own experience caring for a relative who had suffered a stroke.

On social media, many shared scenes of murderous Hector “Tio” Salamanca — and his explosive demise — who communicated only with vivid facial expressions and by ringing a bell taped to his wheelchair. 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.”

Margolis also was known for many film roles, particularly in the films of Darren Aronofsky, including “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. 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.

Banner image:  (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

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