Tall, dour-faced and slouch-shouldered character actor Abe Vigoda proved himself in both gritty dramatic roles, and as an actor with wonderful comedic timing.
Vigoda was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Lena (Moses) and Samuel Vigoda, a tailor — both Russian Jewish immigrants. His father was a tailor on the Lower East Side. He made his first stage appearance at the age of 17 and plodded away in small theater shows for over 20 years. For the majority of filmgoers, Vigoda first came to prominence in The Godfather (1972) as the double-crossing Tessio, pleading to no avail with Robert Duvall to save his life “for old times’ sake”. Vigoda had roles in a few nondescript TV films before landing the plum role of the dour, unsmiling, urinary tract-tormented Sgt. Phil Fish on the sitcom Barney Miller (1975), his best-known role. The character of Fish proved popular enough to be spun off to his own (albeit short-lived) series, Fish (1977).
With his long, blank, rarely smiling face, he remained in high demand in mafioso-type roles, and for a while in the mid-1980s, he was mistakenly believed to have been dead, leading a producer to remark, “I need an Abe Vigoda type actor”, not realizing Vigoda was still alive. The 1990s and beyond became busy again for Vigoda, making appearances in North (1994), The Misery Brothers (1995), A Brooklyn State of Mind (1998), and Crime Spree (2003). He continued acting into his 90s, surprising audiences with his entertaining style.
Vigoda died in his sleep on January 26, 2016, , a month before his 95th birthday, in suburban Woodland Park, New Jersey. He was interred in Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, New York.
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