Actor Mark Margolis, who starred in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” passed away at age 83

Although Mr. Margolis, who previously starred in “Better Call Saul,” played an ex-drug kingpin who was confined to a wheelchair and unable to talk, he was nevertheless able to exert terrifying authority without the use of language.


"Better Call Saul" actors Luis Moncada, Mark Margolis and Daniel Moncada.Greg Lewis / Sony Pictures Television via Alamy Stock Photo
“Better Call Saul” actors Luis Moncada, Mark Margolis and Daniel Moncada.Greg Lewis / Sony Pictures Television via Alamy Stock Photo

Mark Margolis, a well-known actor whose menacing portrayal of the notorious former drug lord Hector Salamanca in “Breaking Bad” turned the innocent ding of a bellhop bell into a portent of death, passed away on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 83.

In a statement released on Friday, his son Morgan Margolis revealed that he had passed away at Mount Sinai Hospital after a brief illness. Mr. Margolis resided in New York City.

In addition to his more than 160 film and television credits, Mr. Margolis is best known for his memorable performances in the comedies “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (1994), starring Jim Carrey and Al Pacino, and “Scarface” (1983), in which he played a cocaine syndicate henchman opposite Al Pacino.

As a result of his roles in the movies “Pi” (1998), “Requiem for a Dream” (2000), “The Fountain” (2006), “The Wrestler” (2008), “Black Swan” (2010), and “Noah” (2014), he also established himself as Darren Aronofsky’s go-to actor.

The critically acclaimed television series “Breaking Bad,” which starred Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Anna Gunn for five seasons on AMC beginning in 2008, and its prequel, “Better Call Saul,” which aired for six seasons beginning in 2015 and featured Bob Odenkirk and Giancarlo Esposito as well as Rhea Seehorn, among many other actors who appeared in both shows, were the roles that gave Hector his most recognizable screen persona.

As a result of his performance in “Breaking Bad,” Mr. Margolis received an Emmy nomination in 2012 for outstanding guest actor in a drama series.

Hector, also known as Tio, was an elderly former drug cartel boss from Mexico who had moved into a nursing home in New Mexico. Tio was a rival to Walter White (Mr. Cranston), a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who develops into a cold-blooded kingpin in the crystal methedrine trade.

Even though he didn’t have any lines of dialogue on “Breaking Bad,” Mr. Margolis stole the show from his wheelchair, his eyes bulging and face shaking with rage. He also furiously banged the bell that was taped to an arm of the chair whenever he needed help.

"Breaking Bad" actors Aaron Paul and Mark Margolis, at an Emmy afterparty on Sept. 23, 2012. John Shearer / Invision for AMC AP Images
“Breaking Bad” actors Aaron Paul and Mark Margolis, at an Emmy afterparty on Sept. 23, 2012. John Shearer / Invision for AMC AP Images

In a 2012 interview with Fast Company, he observed, “Everyone thinks, ‘My God it must be terrible to operate without words. “‘No.’ is my joke. I already have a solid foundation thanks to the years of hairless acting, so there’s no issue. I’m now acting instead of speaking.

He continued by saying that he had received training as a young actor to express emotions nonverbally. He also mimicked his mother-in-law’s behaviors, which included chewing tobacco with the side of his lips, from when she was a resident of a Florida nursing facility following a stroke.

Hector ended up in a wheelchair after a defector in his organization swapped his prescription to render him unable, as viewers learned in “Better Call Saul,” which starred Mr. Margolis as an ambulatory and chatty Hector.

Despite the character’s erratic temper and damaged moral compass, Mr. Margolis was able to capture Hector’s nuance and even humanity.

He noted in an interview with the Jewish weekly The Forward in 2012 that “you don’t play villains like they are villains.” “You portray them as though you are fully aware of their motivations. which we hope you do.

On November 26, 1939, Mark Margolis was born in Philadelphia to Isidore and Fanya (Fried) Margolis. Before relocating to New York, he briefly attended Temple University. At the age of 19, he obtained a position as Stella Adler’s personal assistant. Additionally, he attended a Lee Strasberg workshop at the renowned Actors Studio.

After making a few cameos on “Kojak” and in 1981’s “Dressed to Kill” and “Arthur,” both starring Dudley Moore, Mr. Margolis gained some notoriety in “Scarface” as Alberto the Shadow, a bodyguard and hitman for Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar), the Bolivian drug lord who teaches Mr. Pacino’s Tony the ropes in the cocaine trade.

Hector may be seen watching a famous scene from “Scarface” on television in “Breaking Bad,” where Tony shoots Alberto in the head after learning that Alberto planned to murder a nosy journalist with a vehicle bomb, killing the journalist’s wife and children as well.

Despite his stints as a Latin heavy, Mr. Margolis was Jewish and did not speak Spanish, which earned him plenty of jeers from people who did speak the language.

He stated, “I’ve lived in Mexico,” in an interview with the culture website Vulture in 2016. “I’m quite decent with the accent of it, and I know enough of the grammar of it. I can get used to it very quickly if I find a decent tutor.

He is survived by his son, Jacqueline Margolis, his wife of 61 years, their three granddaughters, and his brother Jerome.

Between “Scarface” and “Breaking Bad,” Mr. Margolis’s prolific production established him as a well-known, if not famous, actor. He reportedly half-jokedly told The Forward, “People will often come up to me and say, ‘You’re that wonderful character actor,'” I’m not a character actor, though. I make for an odd romantic lead.

But unlike most romantic leads, Mr. Margolis occasionally had financial difficulties. Fans “think I’m some sort of rich guy, that everyone in the movies is making the kind of money Angelina Jolie is making,” he claimed to The New York Observer in 2012.

Since 1975, he and his wife had resided in the same apartment in Manhattan’s TriBeCa district.

At least during the height of the show, his role as Hector brought him a little extra cash after Dingbel, a messaging service, adopted Hector’s most basic bell command—one ding for yes, two for no. He was appointed a spokesperson for Dingbel.

According to Mr. Margolis’ statement to Vulture, “I tell people I’m the second-most famous bell ringer after Quasimodo.”