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Mark Margolis, actor known for 'Breaking Bad' and 'Better Call Saul,' dies at 83

He earned an Emmy Award nomination in 2012 for his performance as a wheelchair-bound drug kingpin on the hit series "Breaking Bad."
Actors Luis Moncada, Daniel Moncada and Mark Margolis (center) in  "Better Call Saul".
"Better Call Saul" actors Luis Moncada, Mark Margolis and Daniel Moncada.Greg Lewis / Sony Pictures Television via Alamy Stock Photo

Mark Margolis, a journeyman character actor best known for playing a wild-eyed drug lord on the AMC shows "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul," died Thursday, according to his family and his agent. He was 83.

He died at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City after a short illness, his family said in a statement. The actor's wife and son were at his bedside at the time of his death.

"Mark’s enduring excellence and amiable nature have left an indelible impression on those fortunate enough to collaborate with him and know him," Robert Attermann, his agent, said in a statement. "He will certainly be missed."

Margolis received an Emmy Award nomination for best guest actor in a drama series in 2012, for his performance on "Breaking Bad" as Hector Salamanca, a former Juárez drug cartel captain who cannot speak or walk after a stroke. The character communicates by tapping on a bell affixed to his wheelchair.

He reprised the role on "Better Call Saul," a prequel series to "Breaking Bad" set partly in the Albuquerque underworld.

"Breaking Bad" Actors Aaron Paul and Mark Margolis  at the AMC Emmy After Party, in Los Angeles on Sept. 23, 2012.
"Breaking Bad" actors Aaron Paul and Mark Margolis, at an Emmy afterparty on Sept. 23, 2012. John Shearer / Invision for AMC AP Images

Margolis got his start as a screen actor in the 1970s with small roles in genre films. He played a henchman in Brian De Palma's crime epic "Scarface," and appeared in movies as varied as the Civil War drama "Glory" and "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective."

He was a regular in the films of director Darren Aronofsky, including "Pi," "Requiem for a Dream," "The Fountain," "The Wrestler," "Black Swan" and "Noah."

Margolis drew wider attention for his work as a Sicilian mob boss infected with HIV in the brutal prison drama "Oz," acting in 10 episodes of the HBO series.

But his role on "Breaking Bad" cemented him deeper in the public consciousness. He was one of the key antagonists of the series, a villain who managed to be menacing without uttering a single word.

"I was only coming onto 'Breaking Bad,' as far as I knew, for that one episode, but there's no accounting for taste, and the fans took a fancy to me," Margolis told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. "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."

In the explosive finale of the fourth season of "Breaking Bad," Hector Salamanca exacts revenge on his nemesis, the stoic drug lord Gustavo "Gus" Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), thanks to a bomb hidden under his wheelchair. Margolis was blown away by the exacting vision of series creator Vince Gilligan.

"Vince is the Einstein monster of television writing," Margolis told The Hollywood Reporter in the same interview. "He's both Frankenstein and Einstein. He's so surprising; he's like no one else I've ever met in the film or TV world."

Margolis was born Nov. 26, 1939 to a Jewish family in Philadelphia. He trained his sights on performing at a young age, studying under one of the most renowned acting teachers of the 20th century.

"I was trained by Stella Adler, one of the greatest teachers of the world," Margolis recalled in The Hollywood Reporter interview. "I was 19 years old, and she frightened me to death. I was her houseboy for a while."

Margolis was a prolific television performer, showing up on "Quantum Leap," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Law & Order," "Sex and the City," "The Good Wife," "The Blacklist" and dozens of other shows.

In a 2012 interview with the Forward, a publication that focuses on the Jewish American community, Margolis was asked to explain the reasons for his Hollywood longevity.

"I think I do relatively decent work," he replied. "I don’t give anybody problems, and I’m an unusual type to begin with. People will often come up to me and say, 'You're that wonderful character actor.' But I’m not a character actor; I’m a weird-looking romantic lead."