Vigoda as Phil Fish in Barney Miller in 1977
|Born||Abraham Charles Vigoda
February 24, 1921
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 26, 2016
Woodland Park, New Jersey, U.S.
|Resting place||Beth David Cemetery, Elmont, New York, U.S.|
|Spouse(s)||Sonja Gohlke (m. 1939; divorce 1963)
Beatrice Schy (m. 1968; her death 1992)
Abraham Charles Vigoda (//; February 24, 1921 – January 26, 2016) was an American character actor who was known for a number of roles, most notably, 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.
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). 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)
Mistaken reports of death
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 edited (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 31, 2016, Vigoda's funeral was held. Notable figures including comic Gilbert Gottfried, former New York City mayor David Dinkins, and Friars Club roastmaster general Jeffrey Ross attended.
- Three Rooms in Manhattan (1965) as Waiter (uncredited)
- The Godfather (1972) as Salvatore Tessio
- The Devil's Daughter (1973) as Alikhine
- The Don Is Dead (1973) as Don Talusso,
- The Story of Pretty Boy Floyd (1974) as Dominic Morrell
- Newman's Law (1974) as John Dellanzia
- The Godfather Part II (1974) as Salvatore Tessio
- Having Babies (1976) as Al Schneider
- The Cheap Detective (1978) as Sgt. Rizzuto
- How to Pick Up Girls! (1978) as Nathan Perlmutter
- Death Car on the Freeway (1979) as Mr. Frisch
- Gridlock (1980) as Herb
- The Big Stuffed Dog (1981) as Carnival Pitchman
- Cannonball Run II (1984) as Caesar
- The Stuff (1985) as Special Guest Star in Stuff Commercial (cameo)
- Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter (1986) as Detective Abe Fossi
- Plain Clothes (1987) as Mr. Wiseman
- Look Who's Talking (1989) as Grandpa
- Prancer (1989) as Orel Benton
- Keaton's Cop (1990) as Louis Keaton
- Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) as Chief of the Waponis
- Fist of Honor (1993) as Victor Malucci
- Sugar Hill (1993) as Gus Molino
- Me and the Kid (1993) as Pawn Broker
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) as Salvatore Valestra (voice)
- North (1994) as Alaskan Grandpa
- Home of Angels (1994) as Grandpa
- Jury Duty (1995) as Judge Powell
- The Misery Brothers (1995) as Don Frito Layleone
- Love Is All There Is (1996) as Rudy
- Saturday Night Live (1996) as himself
- Underworld (1996) as Will Cassady
- Good Burger (1997) as Otis
- Me and the Gods (1997) as Zeuz
- A Brooklyn State of Mind (1998) as Uncle Guy
- Witness to the Mob (1998) as Paul Castellano
- Just the Ticket (1999) as Arty
- Chump Change (2000) as The Frog
- Tea Cake or Cannoli (2000)
- Crime Spree (2003) as Angelo Giancarlo
- Farce of the Penguins (2007) as Penguin from Boca (voice)
- The Unknown Trilogy (2007) as Uncle Morty (segment "Frankie the Squirrel")
- Sweet Destiny (2014) (final film role)
- Studio One (1949)
- Dark Shadows (cast member in 1969) as Ezra Braithwaite
- Toma (1973) as Donzer
- Mannix (1973) as Anton Valine
- Hawaii Five-O (1974) as Abe Kemper
- Barney Miller (cast member from 1975–1977)
- The Bionic Woman (1976) as Barlow
- Fish (1977–1978) as Det. Phil Fish
- The Comedy Company (1978) as Jake
- The Rockford Files (1978) as Phil 'The Dancer' Gabriel / Al Dancer
- B. J. and the Bear (1980) as Grandpa Ben Rule
- The Littlest Hobo (1980) as Howard Mattson
- As the World Turns (cast member in 1985)
- Tales from the Darkside – "A Choice of Dreams" (1986) as Jake Corelli
- Superboy (Season 1, Episode 3 "Back to Oblivion" – 1988) as Mr. Wagner
- Santa Barbara (cast member in 1989) as Lyle DeFranco
- Monsters (TV series) (ep. "The Gift" – 1990) as Dolan
- MacGyver (ep. 7 season 6) as Bill Cody
- Lucky Luke (1993) as Judge Rinehart
- Law & Order – "Remand" (1996) as Ret. Detective Landis
- Wings – "All about Christmas Eve" (1996) as Harry
- The Norm Show – "Norm, Crusading Social Worker" (1999) as Sal
- Late Night with Conan O'Brien (recurring) as Himself
- High School USA! (ep. 12, 2013) as Otto
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- Marguiles, Lee (April 18, 1976). "Fame Comes Late to "Sad-faced" Vigoda"". Youngstown Vindicator. Associated Press.
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