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Updated: October 14, 2023

Salmi was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City, to Finnish immigrant parents.

He attended Haaren High School in Manhattan. Following a stint in the United States Army during World War II, Salmi took up acting as a career, studying Method acting at the Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg.

In 1955, Salmi starred as Bo Decker in the play Bus Stop on Broadway, and also performed in the touring production of the play. His performance was praised by critics and Salmi was offered the chance to reprise the role in the 1956 film Bus Stop starring Marilyn Monroe. Salmi turned down the offer because he did not enjoy film work. ( Don Murray was later cast as Bo and earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance. ) Salmi turned down several other offers to make films before he finally accepted a role as Smerdjakov in the 1958 film The Brothers Karamazov, with Yul Brynner, Lee J. Cobb, William Shatner, and Richard Basehart. Salmi's next film was The Bravados in which he played one of the villains who is hunted down by hero Gregory Peck. The National Board of Review presented Salmi with the NBR Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in both of these films.

Salmi was a noted character actor who appeared in over 150 film and television productions. Despite his numerous appearances in the medium, he held the opinion of many Actors Studio alumni that roles in film and television were "inferior" to stage work. One of his first television appearances was in the 1956 live, televised adaptation of the novel Bang the Drum Slowly, featured on the anthology series The United States Steel Hour opposite Paul Newman and George Peppard. He also had several memorable roles on CBS's The Twilight Zone including "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville", "A Quality of Mercy" and "Execution." In 1963, he portrayed John Day and Rivers in the episode "Incident of the Pale Rider" on CBS's Rawhide. In 1964 65 he appeared with Fess Parker as "Yadkin" in the first season of the Daniel Boone TV series. He later appeared twice as the incorrigible pirate, Alonzo P. Tucker on Lost in Space. He appeared in a 1967 episode of Gunsmoke as a killer who comes to an ironic end. For that performance, Salmi was awarded a Western Heritage Award.

Salmi also had guest starring roles in numerous television series including The Virginian, Have Gun Will Travel, Naked City, The Investigators, Combat!, Stoney Burke, Bonanza, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Redigo, The Big Valley, Twelve O'clock High, The Legend of Jesse James, Custer, The Eleventh Hour, Hawaii Five O, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Road West, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Route 66, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, The Fugitive, Night Gallery, Kung Fu, The A-Team, and Knight Rider, as well as TV miniseries such as Once an Eagle and 79 Park Avenue. From 1974 to 1976, Salmi co-starred in the NBC legal drama, Petrocelli as local investigator Pete Ritter. A high point of Salmi's career came in 1968, when he was cast in the Arthur Miller play The Price. He played the lead on Broadway and in London.

His film career included roles in The Unforgiven ( 1960 ), The Outrage ( 1964 ), Lawman ( 1971 ), Escape from the Planet of the Apes ( 1971 ), Viva Knievel! ( 1977 ), Empire of the Ants ( 1977 ), Love and Bullets ( 1979 ), Caddyshack ( 1980 ), and the Robert Redford prison film Brubaker ( 1980 ). He played Greil in Dragonslayer ( 1981 ), Geraldine Page's husband in I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can ( 1982 ), and the hard drinking but loving father of character Diana Lawson in Hard to Hold ( 1984 ). His final role in a theatrical film was in Breaking In starring Burt Reynolds in 1989.

Salmi met actress Peggy Ann Garner while the two were performing in the National Company touring production of Bus Stop in 1955. They were married on May 18, 1956, in New York City. Their only child, Catherine Ann "Cas" Salmi, was born on March 30, 1957; Catherine died in 1995 of heart disease at the age of 38. Salmi and Garner separated in 1961 and divorced on March 13, 1963.

Salmi married Roberta Pollock Taper in 1964. The couple had two daughters, Elizabeth and Jennifer. The family moved from Los Angeles to Spokane, Washington, in 1983, where Salmi went into semiretirement, only taking the occasional acting role. He later taught acting and appeared in regional theater.

In early February 1990, Albert and Roberta Salmi separated. He moved into their Idaho condominium, while Roberta Salmi remained in the family home. She filed for divorce on February 6, 1990. According to court documents, Roberta Salmi claimed that her husband was an alcoholic who physically abused her when he drank. She also claimed that Salmi threatened her on several occasions and she was fearful that he might kill her. Roberta Salmi later took out a restraining order against her husband.In response to her claims in the court documents, Salmi denied physically abusing Roberta and blamed their split on her emotional issues.

On April 23, 1990, Salmi and his estranged wife Roberta were found dead in their Spokane, Washington, home by a friend who stopped by to check on her. According to newspaper accounts, Salmi, who was suffering from severe clinical depression, fatally shot his wife in the kitchen of their home on the morning of April 22. Salmi then shot himself later that day in the den. However, the police reports state that Roberta's death happened on Sunday morning ( April 22 ), but the coroner couldn't determine when Albert's death occurred.

His funeral was held at the Hennessey-Smith Funeral Home on April 26, after which he was cremated and placed in a niche at Greenwood Memorial Terrace cemetery in Spokane.

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