Abe Vigoda was an American film and television actor who played Detective Phil Fish in the sitcom ‘Barney Miller’. He was also known for portraying Salvatore Tessio in the Francis Ford Coppola film ‘The Godfather’. A popular character actor who enthralled the audiences for four decades with his powerful, poignant, and humorous performances, he started his career on the stage. He had decided when he was a young boy that his calling was to become an actor though it would be years before he finally tasted success. Born as the son of a tailor, he began acting while in his teens, working with the American Theatre Wing. Even though he became a professional actor in the 1940s, his career took off only in the 1960s. A talented stage actor who had appeared in several Broadway plays, Shakespearean productions and musical comedies, he gained considerable fame in the 1960s which paved the way for his career in films. His appearance as a traitorous mobster in ‘The Godfather’ heralded his entry into films as a character actor. He ventured into television as well and portrayed Detective Phil Fish on the sitcom ‘Barney Miller’ which further added to his fame. He had also been a frequent guest on ‘Late Night with Conan O'Brien’ for many years.
- Abraham Charles "Abe" Vigoda was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 24 February 1921 to parents Samuel and Lena, who were Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father was a tailor. Abe had two brothers.He developed an early interest in performing on the stage and began acting while in his teens. He also worked with the American Theatre Wing.Career
- Abe Vigoda began his career as a professional stage actor in 1947 but it would be many years before he finally tasted big success. Over the next few years he appeared in a variety of Shakespearean plays, musical comedies, and Broadway productions.After struggling for several years, the talented actor finally started getting recognition in the 1960s for playing notable roles like Landau in Harold Pinter's ‘The Man in the Glass Booth’ in 1968 and parts in ‘Inquest’ (1970), and ‘Tough to Get Help’ (1972).His success on the stage led to a film role in 1972 where he portrayed the elder mobster Salvatore Tessio in ‘The Godfather’. At the age of 51, he finally found the popularity and success he deserved. He soon reprised this role in the film’s sequel ‘The Godfather Part II’ in 1974.Another memorable role followed in 1975, that of Detective Phil Fish, a police officer in the television series ‘Barney Miller’. Vigoda’s portrayal of the grumpy and aged detective who was constantly suffering from a variety of maladies won over the audiences’ hearts. He played the role until 1977.The popularity of the character of Phil Fish led to a spin-off of ‘Barney Miller’ in 1977 titled ‘Fish’. Vigoda played the title role while Florence Stanley appeared as his wife Bernice. In the series, Fish and Bernice became foster parents to five racially mixed children. The series was wrapped after two seasons.He continued acting on stage and appearing on television and films throughout the 1980s. In 1982, he was erroneously referred to as the “late” Abe Vigoda in the ‘People’ magazine. He took this in good humor and even posed for a photograph for ‘Variety’ magazine, sitting up in a coffin holding the erroneous issue of ‘People’.During the late 1980s, he appeared in films like ‘Keaton's Cop’ (1988), ‘Plain Clothes’ (1988), ‘Look Who's Talking’ (1989), and ‘Prancer’ (1989). He was also a cast member in the television soap opera ‘Santa Barbara’ in 1989. In addition, he was a frequent guest on the television show ‘Late Night with Conan O'Brien’.A health conscious man, he exercised regularly and enjoyed good health well into his eighties. He remained active on the professional front as well despite his advancing age. In the 2000s he appeared in films such as ‘Crime Spree’ (2003) and ‘Chump Change’ (2004), and lent his voice to ‘Farce of the Penguins’ (2007).Major Works
- Abe Vigoda’s portrayal of Salvatore "Sal" Tessio in the film ‘The Godfather’ is one of his memorable roles. The film became a big critical as well as commercial success and is widely regarded as one of the greatest films in world cinema.He was also much loved for playing Detective Phil Fish in the television sitcom ‘Barney Miller’. His portrayal of the cantankerous but efficient senior detective endeared him greatly to his fans. His character became very popular, leading to the creation of a spin-off with Fish as protagonist.Personal Life & Legacy
- Abe Vigoda married Beatrice Schy in 1968 and had one daughter, Carol. The couple remained married until Beatrice’s death in 1992.He was an avid jogger and a fitness enthusiast who remained in good health until the end of his long life. He died on 26 January 2016, at his daughter's home in Woodland Park, New Jersey.
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