Abe Vigoda, who is likely best known to old-school sitcom viewers as the irascible and crotchety Detective Fish on TV’s Barney Miller, passed away earlier today at the age of 94. As reported by ABC News, Vigoda’s daughter confirmed her father’s death in comments to the Associated Press. Carol Vigoda Fuchs indicated that her father died due to “old age,” advising that he was “never sick.”
Cast in the 1972 classic film The Godfather, Abe Vigoda played the role of Salvatore Tessio, described by the Washington Post as “an underworld figure who betrays Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone and pays the price.” Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola selected Vigoda for the role as part of a larger plan to cast lesser-known stage actors in his epic movie. Indeed, Abe Vigoda worked in a number of Broadway productions in the decade prior to his role in The Godfather, including a spot in The Man in the Glass Booth, as noted in Vigoda’s online biography.
Vigoda landed his signature role as Detective Phil Fish in 1975, and portrayed that character on Barney Miller until 1977, at which time he received his own spinoff show, Fish. Fish only lasted a season and a half, but Vigoda reprised the role in subsequent guest appearances on Barney Miller until 1981.
“The character of Fish is so complete, so human,” Gail said in comments re-published by the Washington Post. “Things like going to the bathroom or being tired — Abe finds a kind of poetry in them, and people connect with it.”
The eclectic ensemble cast of Barney Miller has unfortunately endured a number of sad farewells over the years, including the death of Jack Soo, who played Detective Nick Yemana. Soo passed away in 1979. Ron Carey, who played Carl Levitt, died in 2007, and Steve Landesberg, who portrayed Detective Arthur Dietrich, died in 2010.
Well beyond his memorable stint on Barney Miller, Abe Vigoda amassed a lengthy resume of television and film credits, including recurring roles along with voice-overs for cartoons and video games. Vigoda’s filmography at the Internet Movie Database notes his role as Lyle DeFranco in the 1980s soap opera Santa Barbara, as well as his voice role in the animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. He also reprised the role of Salvatore Tessio for a series of video games based on The Godfather in 2006 and 2007.
“When I was a young man, I was told success had to come in my youth,” Vigoda said in remarks re-published by ABC News. “I found this to be a myth. My experiences have taught me that if you deeply believe in what you are doing, success can come at any age.”
Due perhaps in part to his advance age, Abe Vigoda has been the subject of a number of online death hoaxes over the years. An article posted today by The Verge traces the phenomenon of Vigoda-related hoaxes back to the 1980s, adding that a website entitled “Is Abe Vigoda Dead?” was set up some time ago to dispel unseemly rumors. As of this afternoon, the site directs visitors to a single page bearing the word “Yes,” along with Vigoda’s date of birth – February 24, 1921 – and today’s date, his date of death.
The Verge also noted that Abe Vigoda is survived by his daughter Carol, his grandchildren Jamie, Steven, and Paul, and a great-grandchild.
[Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images]