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James Karen, ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘Return of the Living Dead’ Actor, Dies at 94

James Karen, character actor with hundreds of roles who was best known for “Poltergeist” and “Return of the Living Dead,” died Tuesday in Los Angeles, his friend Leonard Maltin confirmed. He was 94.

Born Jacob Karnovsky in 1923, the actor later changed his last name to Karen after setting out to pursue a career in New York in the 1940s as a professional actor. Under his new name, he would go on to garner appearances spanning both film and television for more than 70 years.

Of his many roles, Karen is perhaps best known for his rendition of the “Poltergeist” character Mr. Teague, a real estate developer who builds a suburban housing community on top of a cemetery filled with angry spirits. Karen also starred in the horror classic “Return of the Living Dead,” playing an unassuming medical warehouse manager who manages to release an experimental gas that brings the dead back to life. Karen’s other prominent films include “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “The China Syndrome,” “All the President’s Men” and “Mulholland Drive.”

On television, he had a recurring role as Dr. Burke on the soap opera “As The World Turns” as well as his infamous role as Nathan Lassiter in “Little House on the Prairie, an evil business tycoon whose plans lead to the destruction of the town of Walnut Grove in the series finale. His other TV appearances included “The Rockford Files,” “Eight is Enough,” “Lou Grant,” “Eight is Enough,” “The Waltons,” “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and “Cheers.”

Karen is survived by his wife Alba and his son Reed.

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