Vigoda in 1975
Abraham Charles Vigoda
February 24, 1921
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 26, 2016 (aged 94)|
|Resting place||Beth David Cemetery, Elmont, New York, U.S.|
Abraham Charles Vigoda (February 24, 1921 - January 26, 2016) was an American actor known for his portrayals of Salvatore Tessio in The Godfather (1972) and Phil Fish in Barney Miller (1975-1977, 1982) and Fish (1977-1978).
Vigoda was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 24, 1921, the son of Samuel and Lena Vigoda (née Moses), Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father was a tailor who had two other sons: Hy and Bill. The latter was a comic book artist who drew for the Archie Comics franchise and others in the 1940s. Upon leaving school, Vigoda worked as a printer before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1943, serving in World War II. After his military service, he studied acting on the GI Bill at the American Theatre Wing. In the late 1940s, he began working in radio and made his television debut in an installment of the live drama series Studio One.
He gained acting notability in the 1960s with his work in Broadway productions, including Marat/Sade (1967), portraying Mad Animal, The Man in the Glass Booth (1968), portraying Landau, Inquest (1970), and Tough to Get Help (1972), portraying Abraham Lincoln.
His best known film role is that of Salvatore Tessio in The Godfather (1972). He also appeared briefly in The Godfather Part II in a flashback sequence at the end of the film. According to Francis Ford Coppola's commentary on the DVD's widescreen edition, Vigoda landed the role of Tessio in an "open call", in which actors who did not have agents could come in for an audition.
He gained further fame as Phil Fish on Barney Miller, a character known for his world-weary demeanor and persistent hemorrhoids. Vigoda landed the role after an unusual audition, in which he unwittingly displayed that he was a perfect fit for the role:
While living in Los Angeles, I'd jog three to five miles a day. One morning jogging, my agent calls about a new series called Barney Miller, saying, "Go there at once."
Well, I was tired and exhausted ... I must have run five miles that morning. I said. "I have to go home and take a shower."
"No, no, no. Go right now to Studio City, you're very right for it, they know you from The Godfather, they want to see you."
"With my shorts?"
Danny Arnold and Ted Flicker, the producers, look at me, I look at them, they look at me again. "You look tired."
"Of course I'm tired, I jogged five miles this morning, I'm exhausted."
"Yeah, yeah, tell me, you look like you have hemorrhoids."
"What are you, a doctor or a producer?"-- Abe Vigoda, quoted in Louis Zorich's What Have You Done?: The Inside Stories of Auditioning--from the Ridiculous to the Sublime (2009)
Prior to his actual death in January 2016, Vigoda was a constant victim of celebrity death hoaxes.
In 1982 People magazine mistakenly referred to Vigoda as dead. At the time, Vigoda, aged 60, was performing in a stage play in Calgary. He took the mistake with good humor, posing for a photograph published in Variety in which he was sitting up in a coffin, holding the erroneous issue of People. Jeff Jarvis, a People employee at the time, said that the magazine's editors were known for "messing up" stories and one of them repeatedly inserted the phrase "the late" in reference to Vigoda, even after a researcher correctly removed it. The erroneous version was what went to print.
In 1987 the same mistake was made when a reporter for WWOR, Channel 9 in Secaucus, New Jersey, mistakenly referred to him as the "late Abe Vigoda". She realized and corrected her mistake the next day.
He had been the subject of many running gags pertaining to the mistaken reports of his death. In 1997 Vigoda appeared in Good Burger as the character Otis, a restaurant's French fry man. Several jokes were made about his advanced age, including his character Otis saying, "I should've died years ago." That same year, he was shopping at Bloomingdale's in Manhattan when the salesman remarked, "You look like Abe Vigoda. But you can't be Abe Vigoda because he's dead." A Late Night with David Letterman skit showed Letterman trying to summon Vigoda's ghost, but Vigoda walked in and declared, "I'm not dead yet, you pinhead!".
In May 2001 a website was created with only one purpose: to report whether Vigoda was alive or dead. In addition, in 2005, a "tongue-in-cheek" Firefox extension was released with the sole purpose of telling the browser user Vigoda's status.
Continuing with the gag, he appeared frequently to make fun of his status on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, including a guest appearance on the show's final episode. At the 1998 New York Friars Club roast of Drew Carey, with Vigoda in the audience, Jeff Ross joked, "My one regret is that Abe Vigoda isn't alive to see this." He followed that with "Drew, you go to Vegas; what's the over-under on Abe Vigoda?". On January 23, 2009, Vigoda appeared live on The Today Show. He said he was doing well, joked about previous reports of his death and announced he had just completed a voice-over for an H&R Block commercial to air during the Super Bowl.
Vigoda and Betty White, both 88 years old at the time, appeared in "Game", a Snickers commercial that debuted during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010. The synopsis made fun of the advanced age of the actors. The Super Bowl Ad Meter poll respondents rated the ad the highest of any shown during the game.
On January 26, 2016, Vigoda died in his sleep at his daughter Carol Fuchs's home in Woodland Park, New Jersey of natural causes at age 94. He had gone there "to escape the hazards of a blizzard".
Vigoda's funeral was held on January 31, 2016. Notable figures including comic Gilbert Gottfried, former New York City mayor David Dinkins, and Friars Club roastmaster general Jeffrey Ross attended. He was buried in the Beth David Cemetery at Elmont, Nassau County, New York.
Good Burger 1997 Crusading Social Worker" (1999) as Sal