Abe Vigoda’s funeral on Sunday brought plenty of laughter to friends and family members of the beloved character actor. Although comedian Gilbert Gottfried brought smiles to many of the faces of the people who were gathered at Riverside Memorial Chapel, there was undoubtedly sorrow in the air and many tears were shed.
Gottfried, who was a close friend of Abe Vigoda, cracked jokes to the audience of more than 100 people.
“This is the 20th time we buried Abe Vigoda,” Gottfried joked.
According to a report from CBC News, the remark was a reference to a running joke about whether Vigoda, who came to fame with his role as Salvatore Tessio in the film The Godfather, was dead or alive — the result of a false report of his death decades ago. Vigoda passed away in his sleep at his daughters home after returning from the blizzard that has swept most of the northeast in the U.S. He was 94-years-old.
“His big wish was not to be alone and not to die alone,” his daughter, Carol Vigoda-Fuchs, said. “So I’m grateful he got what he wanted.”
According to Page Six, the memorial program included a picture of Vigoda from “The Godfather,” and underneath the picture, his final line of that 1972 classic: “Can you get me off the hook. . . for old times’ sake?”
Gottfried came prepared with some hilarious jokes, and the below lines are just a few he delivered while giving his speech during the funeral.
“Abe was so old, his best friend in school was Christ. Abe was so old, he had a pet dinosaur. Abe was so old, he had a copy of the Bible signed by the author.”
Speaking with the Post after the funeral was over, Gottfried spoke about his dear friend and said that he would have appreciated the laughs.
“He was not only in on the joke, but he was the joke, and he knew it and he embraced that,” Gottfried was quoted as saying. “Abe Vigoda — his name became a punch line, but in a nice way, in a loving way. He was just one of those people you just laughed looking at him.”
Family members say Vigoda was a true New Yorker who made a name for himself after growing up during the Great Depression.
“He was just a regular guy,” Vigoda-Fuchs said. “He loved his fans, he taught us great values. He was very squeaky clean…. I’m very thankful he was able to share his many gifts with everybody and made everybody laugh and be happy.”
Many stars paid their respects to late actor, including Robert Duvall and Al Pacino. Al Pacino, who starred in The Godfather with Vigoda as Michael Corleone, sent flowers and a card to Vigoda’s family, and described him as a “gentle kind soul” whose personality shined through his work. Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins also gave a brief speech and he said “this city, this country, this world are all better places because Abe Vigoda was here.”
The character of Sal Tessio in The Godfather (1972) gave Vigoda his first chance to see his name in the credits of a film when he was 51-years-old. Soon after, he reached the TV celebrity world by playing the grumpy sergeant Phil Fish in the series Barney Miller, which earned him three Emmy nominations.
Born in New York in 1921 as the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Vigoda had small roles in theater and television for three decades until Francis Ford Coppola recruited him for his legendary role.
“I got the role because the producer thought I looked tired,” Vigoda said years later. “But I looked tired because I had been jogging earlier that day. It seems he’d seen me in a play or plays. I think one of the reasons he was interested in me was because nobody knew my face.”
[Image via Evan Agostini/Getty Images]