Abe Vigoda

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Abe Vigoda
Vigoda in 1975
Abraham Charles Vigoda

(1921-02-24)February 24, 1921
DiedJanuary 26, 2016(2016-01-26) (aged 94)
Resting placeBeth David Cemetery, Elmont, New York, U.S.
Years active1947–2014
  • Sonja Gohlke (died 1969)
    (m. 1939; div. 1963)
  • Beatrice Schy
    (m. 1968; died 1992)

Abraham Charles Vigoda[1] (February 24, 1921 – January 26, 2016) was an American actor known for his portrayals of Salvatore Tessio in The Godfather (1972) and Phil Fish in both Barney Miller (1975–1977, 1982) and Fish (1977–1978).

Early life, family and education[edit]

Vigoda was born in Brooklyn, New York, New York, on February 24, 1921,[2] the son of Samuel Vigoda and Lena Moses, Jewish immigrants from Russia.[3][4] 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.[5] Upon leaving school, Vigoda worked as a printer before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1943, serving in World War II. After his military service, he studied acting on the GI Bill at the American Theatre Wing. In the late 1940s, he began working in radio and made his television debut in an installment of the live drama series Studio One.[6]


Vigoda as Phil Fish in Fish (1977)

Vigoda began acting while in his 20s, working with the American Theatre Wing.[7] His career as a professional actor began in 1947.[8]

He gained acting notability in the late 1960s and early 1970s 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), portraying Abraham Lincoln.[2][7]

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.[9] 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.[10]

He gained further fame as Phil Fish on Barney Miller, a character known for his world-weary demeanor and persistent hemorrhoids.[11] 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?"[12]

— Abe Vigoda, quoted in Louis Zorich's What Have You Done?: The Inside Stories of Auditioning—from the Ridiculous to the Sublime (2009)

Vigoda's character on Barney Miller was popular, and a spin off television series, Fish, was created for him in 1977.[2] The series, a situation comedy, ran from February 5, 1977, to May 18, 1978.[13] In "The Love Boat" S2 E15 "Home Sweet Home" he played ship hand Charles Fletcher, who is pursued by the widowed Mrs. Waterhouse (played by Nancy Walker). It aired 1/19/1979.

Mistaken reports of death[edit]

Prior to his actual death in January 2016, Vigoda was a repeated victim of mistaken death announcements. These led to jokes, often with Vigoda as participant.

In 1982 People magazine mistakenly referred to Vigoda as dead. At the time, Vigoda, aged 60, was performing in a stage play in Calgary.[14] 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.[15] The erroneous version was what went to print.[15]

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.[16]

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, the titular restaurant's french fry man. Several jokes were made about his high 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."[17] 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!"[18]

At a New York Friars Club roast of Rob Reiner which Vigoda attended, Billy Crystal joked, "I have nothing to say about Abe. I was always taught to speak well of the dead."[1]

In May 2001 a website was created with only one purpose: to report whether Vigoda was alive or dead.[19][20][21] 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?"[22] 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.[citation needed]

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.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Vigoda and his first wife Sonja Gohlke had one daughter named Carol.[17] The marriage ended in divorce.[24] His second marriage to Beatrice Schy lasted from 1968[25] until her death in 1992.[17]

Vigoda enjoyed playing handball[14] and stated in an interview that he was "almost" a champion at the game in his youth.[12]


On January 26, 2016, one month before his 95th birthday,[26] Vigoda died in his sleep at his daughter Carol Fuchs' home in Woodland Park, New Jersey, of natural causes.[7][17][27] He had gone there "to escape the hazards of a blizzard."[28]

Vigoda's funeral was held on January 31, 2016. Notable figures including comic Gilbert Gottfried and former New York City mayor David Dinkins attended.[29] He was buried in the Beth David Cemetery at Elmont, Nassau County, New York.

On the 2016 Academy Awards show, Vigoda was not included in the show's memorial reel, surprising many and prompting a small PR backlash.[30][31]



Year Title Role Notes
1965 Three Rooms in Manhattan Waiter Uncredited
1972 The Godfather Salvatore Tessio
1973 The Devil's Daughter Alikhine
1973 The Don Is Dead Don Talusso
1974 The Story of Pretty Boy Floyd Dominic Morrell
1974 Newman's Law John Dellanzia
1974 The Godfather Part II Salvatore Tessio
1978 The Cheap Detective Sgt. Rizzuto
1979 Death Car on the Freeway Mr. Frisch
1981 The Big Stuffed Dog Carnival Pitchman
1984 Cannonball Run II Caesar
1985 The Stuff Stuff Commercial Guest Star Cameo
1986 Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter Detective Abe Fossi
1987 Plain Clothes Mr. Wiseman
1988 Grandmother's House Grandpa
1989 Look Who's Talking Grandpa
1989 Prancer Orel Benton
1990 Keaton's Cop Louis Keaton
1990 Joe Versus the Volcano Waponis Chief
1993 Fist of Honor Victor Malucci
1993 Sugar Hill Gus Molino
1993 Me and the Kid Pawn Broker
1993 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Sal Valestra (voice)
1994 North Alaskan Grandpa
1994 Home of Angels Grandpa
1995 Jury Duty Judge Powell
1995 The Misery Brothers Don Frito Layleone
1996 Love Is All There Is Rudy
1996 Underworld Will Cassady
1997 Good Burger Otis
1997 Me and the Gods Zeus
1997 A Brooklyn State of Mind Uncle Guy
1998 Witness to the Mob Paul Castellano
1999 Just the Ticket Arty
2000 Chump Change The Frog
2003 Crime Spree Angelo Giancarlo
2007 Farce of the Penguins Boca Penguin (voice)
2007 The Unknown Trilogy Uncle Morty Segment: "Frankie the Squirrel"


Year Title Role Notes
1949 Studio One Old Train Passenger Episode: "Two Sharp Knives"
1969–1970 Dark Shadows Ezra Braithwaite, Otis Greene 3 episodes
1973 Mannix Anton Valine Episode: "A Matter of Principle"
1973–1974 Toma Donzer, Carl Bello 2 episodes
1974 The Rookies Michael Lance Episode: "Something Less Than a Man"
1974 Hawaii Five-O Abe Kemper Episode: "The Two-Faced Corpse"
1974 Kojak Kilty Episode: "The Best Judge Money Can Buy"
1974–1981 Barney Miller Det. Phil Fish Main role
1974, 1978 The Rockford Files Phil Gabriel, Al Dancer 2 episodes
1975 Cannon Mr. Couzellous Episode: "Search and Destroy"
1976 The Bionic Woman Barlow Episode: "Black Magic"
1977–1978 Fish Det. Phil Fish Main role
1978 Vegas Max Episode: "Centerfold"
1979 Sweepstakes Anthony Episode: "Lynn and Grover and Joey"
1979 Supertrain Ray Yellburton Episode: "A Very Formal Heist"
1979 Eight Is Enough Ben Ryan Episode: "The Final Days"
1979 B. J. and the Bear Ben Rule Episode: "Mary Ellen"
1980 The Littlest Hobo Howard Mattson Episode: "Million Dollar Fur Heist"
1984 Mike Hammer Arthur Episode: "A Bullet for Benny"
1986 Tales from the Darkside Jake Corelli Episode: "A Choice of Dreams"
1988 Superboy Mr. Wagner Episode: "Back to Oblivion"
1989 B.L. Stryker Clayton Baskin Episode: "The Dancer's Touch"
1990 MacGyver Bill Cody Episode: "Harry's Will"
1991 Murder, She Wrote George Episode: "The Prodigal Father"
1996 Law & Order Detective Landis Episode: "Remand"
1996 Weird Science Old Man Lisa Episode: "Grumpy Old Genie"
1996 Wings Harry Episode: "All About Christmas Eve"
1997 Touched by an Angel Receptionist Angel Episode: "Clipped Wings"
1998 Promised Land Albert Spokaine Episode: "Jury Duty"
1999 Mad About You Kalman Wertzel Episode: "Farmer Buchman"
1999 The Norm Show Sal Episode: "Norm, Crusading Social Worker"
2000 Manhattan, AZ Ben 3 episodes
2001 Deadline Joseph Spiaggio Episode: "Don't I Know You?"
2001 Family Guy Himself (voice) Episode: "The Kiss Seen Round the World"
2013 High School USA! Otto (voice) Episode: "Sweet 16"[32]

Video game[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2006 The Godfather Salvatore Tessio (voice) [32]


  1. ^ a b Lavietes, Stuart (January 26, 2016). "Abe Vigoda, of 'Godfather' and 'Barney Miller,' dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Hamrick, Craig; Jamison, R. J. (2012). Barnabas & Company: The Cast of the TV Classic Dark Shadows. Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse. p. 445. ISBN 978-1-4759-1034-6.
  3. ^ US Census, April 1, 1930, State of New York, County of Kings, Borough of Brooklyn, enumeration district 566, p. 14-A, family 10.
  4. ^ "Abe Vigoda Biography". FilmReference.com. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  5. ^ "Gil Kane, Interviewed by Gary Groth". The Comics Journal. Archived from the original (excerpt) on April 6, 2012. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  6. ^ "Abe Vigoda, actor". The Telegraph. Archived from the original (obituary) on June 3, 2016. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c "Abe Vigoda Biography". A+E Networks. Archived from the original on March 26, 2019. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
  8. ^ Marguiles, Lee (April 18, 1976). "Fame Comes Late to "Sad-faced" Vigoda". Youngstown Vindicator. Associated Press. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  9. ^ Schumacher, Michael (1999). Francis Ford Coppola: a filmmaker's life. New York, NY: Crown. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-517-70445-5.
  10. ^ The Godfather: Widescreen Collection (DVD). Paramount Pictures. 2004.
  11. ^ Sharbutt, Jay (May 26, 1977). "Abe Vigoda Likes the Recognition He's Earned as TV's "Fish"". The Evening News. Newburgh, NY. Associated Press. p. 6C.
  12. ^ a b Zorich, Louis (2009). What Have You Done?: The Inside Stories of Auditioning—from the Ridiculous to the Sublime. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-87910-365-1.
  13. ^ Bridges, Todd (2010). Killing Willis: From Diff'rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-4391-5589-9.
  14. ^ a b Leopold, Todd (September 23, 2008). "Abe Vigoda is still alive, thank you very much". CNN Entertainment. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  15. ^ a b Silverman, Craig; Jarvis, Jeff (2009). Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. Sterling. pp. 174–75. ISBN 978-1-4027-6564-3.
  16. ^ Brioux, Bill (2007). Truth and rumors: the reality behind TV's most famous myths. The Praeger television collection. Greenwood. pp. 114–15. ISBN 978-0-275-99247-7.
  17. ^ a b c d Italie, Hillel (January 26, 2016). "Abe Vigoda, sunken-eyed character actor, dead at 94". Associated Press. Archived from the original on February 3, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  18. ^ Rumours of his death are premature[permanent dead link] The Hollywood Scandal Almanac Page 125 6 February 2016.
  19. ^ "Whois Record For AbeVigOda.com". DomainTools. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  20. ^ Ceilán, Cynthia (2007). Thinning the Herd: Tales of the Weirdly Departed. Globe Pequot. p. 210. ISBN 978-1-59921-219-7.
  21. ^ "Vigoda's non-death (he is now 88) is a pop culture meme to this day. Abevigoda.com, for example, does only one thing: indicate whether Abe is alive or dead". New York. 43: 239. 2010.
  22. ^ Ross, Jeffrey (2009). I Only Roast the Ones I Love: Busting Balls Without Burning Bridges. Simon and Schuster. pp. 163–64. ISBN 9781439101407.
  23. ^ Othmer, James P. (February 8, 2010). "Super Bowl Ads Play It Safe". The Daily Beast. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  24. ^ "Famous Hookups". Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  25. ^ "Abe Vigoda Dead". January 27, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  26. ^ Hinckley, David (January 27, 2016). "Why you knew Abe Vigoda". CNN. Retrieved January 23, 2021. when he died Tuesday, a month short of his 95th birthday
  27. ^ "Abe Vigoda, sunken-eyed 'Godfather,' 'Barney Miller' actor, dies at 94". The Washington Post. January 26, 2016. ISSN 0190-8286.
  28. ^ Balsamo, Michael (February 1, 2016). "Brooklyn native Abe Vigoda, famed character actor, recalled as a class act". Brooklyn Eage. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  29. ^ "Famed Character Actor Abe Vigoda Remembered as a Class Act". CBS News. January 31, 2016.
  30. ^ "Oscars "In Memoriam": Abe Vigoda Among Snubs". The Hollywood Reporter. February 28, 2016.
  31. ^ "Oscars 2016: In Memoriam montage excludes Abe Vigoda". EW.com.
  32. ^ a b "Abe Vidoga (visual voices guide)". Behind The Voice Actors. Retrieved January 12, 2024. A green check mark indicates that a role has been confirmed using a screenshot (or collage of screenshots) of a title's list of voice actors and their respective characters found in its opening and/or closing credits and/or other reliable sources of information.

General references[edit]

  • "Abe Vigoda the sunken Godfather". The Washington Post. January 26, 2016. ISSN 0190-8286.
  • Obituaries (January 28, 2016). "Abe Vigoda". The Daily Telegraph.
  • Lavietes, Stuart (January 26, 2016). "Abe Vigoda, of 'Godfather' and 'Barney Miller,' dies at 94". New York Times.
  • Marguiles, Lee (April 18, 1976). "Fame Comes Late to "Sad-faced" Vigoda"". Youngstown Vindicator. Associated Press. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

External links[edit]