Uggie, the Jack Russell Terrier who achieved worldwide fame with his starring role in “The Artist”, died on August 7. He was euthanized after a painful battle with a prostrate tumor. His owner and trainer Omar von Muller broke the news on Facebook today after TMZ reported the news early this morning. The beloved film canine was 13 and starred in commercials, TV shows and movies, including 2011’s “Water for Elephants.” But when he played the best friend and co-star of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) in “The Artist” he became legend. It stands as the most singular animal performance ever in a film, and here are the five significant reasons why.
“The Artist” took Oscar’s top prize
No one is dismissing the accomplishments of Lassie or Benji, but their star turns were in family films, and they were played by many different dogs. Those films were also just not of the same caliber as the one that swept the Academy Awards in 2012. “The Artist” was wholly unique: it was French, presented in black and white, and virtually a silent film. “The Artist” was an art-house movie that became a sensation the world over. And it made stars and international celebrities of leads Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, as well its canine supporting player Uggie.
Uggie’s performance was awarded at Cannes
The Cannes jury started giving an award to animal performances at their film festival in 2001, and Uggie took the prize in 2011 for “The Artist.” It became international news. Thusly, that win led to serious campaign efforts in Hollywood and throughout the world to get Uggie more accolades, including an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Animals aren’t eligible for Oscars, but so accomplished was Uggie’s performance that it led to a big online crusade to “Consider Uggie.” The Facebook page to net him a nod alone attracted over 21,000 supporters.
Uggie’s character is utterly crucial to the story of “The Artist”
Sure, while watching the movie “The Artist” one can see that some of his performance is hitting cues and demonstrating trained tricks. But just as any actor, human or canine, hits a mark or shows off his technique, Uggie did all that and a whole helluva lot more. He brings a soulfulness to the role through his eyes, mannerisms and movement that goes beyond shtick. It’s a genuine performance, one that seems to intuitively understand the meaning of each scene he is in. Uggie has more screen time than any other player in the film other than Dujardin too, and their chemistry is critical to creating the empathy in the story. And of course, Uggie is vital to the arc of the film’s second act when he saves Valentin from his apartment fire, as well as the film’s climax where he pleads with the down-and-out star not to commit suicide.
He helped Jean Dujardin win dozens of Best Actor awards
Dujardin gave a magnificent performance as fading leading man Valentin, but much of its success is directly attributable to how hand-in-hand it goes with Uggie’s performance. Together, they made a stunning team, one that displayed indelible and incredible chemistry. Dujardin was self-aware enough to thank Uggie for his contribution at almost every awards ceremony where he picked up a Best Actor prize. Wives and screenwriters often don’t get as much due, but Uggie was always called out by the actor, as well as the film’s writer and director Michel Hazanavicius.
Uggie’s performance led to his footprints enshrined at Grauman’s Chinese Theater
His astonishing performance led to other incredible achievements by Uggie. Uggie became the first animal to have his feet placed in ceremonial cement at the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. There was a best-selling biography and international book tour. And Uggie became a household name the world over. The outpouring of tributes and love across social media today is testament to how big a deal this little dog was to so many.
All dogs go to heaven, as the saying goes, and Uggie is now in a place where he’s in no pain. And while he was on this planet, he certainly gave one of the most heavenly performances in film history. He leaves behind his adoring family, headed up by owner and trainer Omar von Muller, and many, many friends and fans who loved this true artist with all their heart. RIP Uggie.