Theodore Bikel, the Oscar- and Tony-nominated character actor, passed away in Los Angeles on Tuesday. He was 91 years old. The actor is best known for his stage roles in The Sound of Music (for which Bikel was nominated for a Tony with his portrayal of Captain von Trapp), A Streetcar Named Desire, and Fiddler on the Roof.
As well as working on stage productions, Theodore Bikel also starred in classic movies such as The African Queen, The Pride and the Passion, The Defiant Ones (for which he received an Oscar nomination for his role alongside Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis), and as the dialect expert Zoltan Karpathy in My Fair Lady.
Theodore Bikel’s acting roles also included work on the small screen. Many Star Trek fans will remember him as the Russian adopted father of the Klingon Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, Bikel also starred in television shows such as Little House on the Prairie; Charlie’s Angels; Columbo; Murder, She Wrote; and Dynasty. His last television role was in the television program JAG in 2003.
As well as an established and respected acting career, Theodore Bikel was also known for his singing voice. Over the span of his career, he managed to produce 27 folk song albums.
Theodore Bikel was born on May 2, 1924, in Vienna, but his family soon fled their home country for Palestine after the Nazi invasion in 1938. Growing up in Palestine saw Bikel join the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv. His first known role there was as the Village Clerk in Tevye the Milkman. Theodore soon after helped co-found the city’s Cameri Theater.
Throughout the years, Theodore Bikel was dedicated to the tireless advocacy of his fellow actors. Bikel was the president of Actors’ Equity Association from 1973-82 as well as the longtime president of the Associated Actors & Artistes of America. However, his past did dwell on him and the fact that he never returned to Israel to fight in the 1948 War of Independence weighed heavily on him at times, as he discussed in his autobiography, Theo: The Autobiography of Theodore Bikel.
“A few of my contemporaries regarded what I did as a character flaw, if not a downright act of desertion. In me, there remains a small, still voice, that asks whether I can ever fully acquit myself in my own mind.”
The Actors’ Equity Association issued the following statement after news broke of Theodore Bikel’s death:
“From the time he joined Equity in 1954, Bikel has been an advocate for the members of our union and his extraordinary achievements paved the way for so many. No one loved theater more, his union better or cherished actors like Theo did. He has left an indelible mark on generation of members past and generations of members to come. We thank you, Theo, for all you have done.”
Theodore Bikel married four times and is survived by his fourth wife, Aimee Ginsburg-Bikel; sons Rob and Danny; stepsons Zeev and Noam Ginsburg; and three grandchildren.
[Image credit: Getty Images / Pool]