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Abe Vigoda

Abe Vigoda
Vigoda in a 1977 publicity photo as Phil Fish from Barney Miller
Born Abraham Charles Vigoda
(1921-02-24) February 24, 1921
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actor / Voice artist
Years active 1949–present
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Sonja Gohlke, first wife, and Beatrice Schy, second wife 1968–92 (her death)

Abraham Charles "Abe" Vigoda (; born February 24, 1921) is an American movie and television actor.

Vigoda is most notable for his portrayal of Sal Tessio in the Francis Ford Coppola film The Godfather, for the film Joe Versus the Volcano, and for his portrayal of Detective Sgt. Phil Fish on the television sitcom series Barney Miller from 1975 to 1977 and on its spinoff show Fish that aired from February 1977 to June 1978 on ABC.

After mistaken reports of his death in 1982 and 1987, Vigoda has been the subject of running gags as to whether he is dead or alive.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Mistaken reports of his death 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Filmography 5
  • Television work 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Vigoda was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1921,[1] a son of Samuel and Lena (Moses) Vigoda, Jewish immigrants from Russia.[2][3] His father was a tailor who had three sons: Abe, Hy and Bill —a comic book artist who drew for the Archie comics franchise and others in the 1940s.[4] The name "Vigoda" in Russian ("выгода") means benefit/advantage/profit/gain.

Vigoda began acting while in his teens, working with the American Theatre Wing.[5] His career as a professional actor began in 1947.[6]


Vigoda as Phil Fish on Barney Miller, 1975.

Vigoda gained acting notability in the 1960s with his work in Broadway productions, including Marat/Sade (1967) playing "Mad Animal", The Man in the Glass Booth (1968) playing "Landau", Inquest (1970), and Tough to Get Help (1972).[1][5] His best-known film role is that of elder mobster 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.[7] According to director 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 don't have agents can come in for an audition.[8] He gained further fame playing Detective Sgt. Phil Fish on Barney Miller, a character known for his world-weary demeanor and persistent hemorrhoids.[9] Vigoda landed the role after an unusual audition in which he unwittingly displayed his perfection 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?" "Go"
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?"[10]
— Abe Vigoda, quoted in Louis Zorich's What Have You Done?: The Inside Stories of Auditioning—from the Ridiculous to the Sublime (2009)

Vigoda starred alongside Florence Stanley and Todd Bridges (before Diff'rent Strokes fame) in a brief spinoff of Barney Miller that centered on his character, eponymously called Fish,[1] until it was canceled in June 1978. According to Bridges, just 12 during the show's second season, Fish was scrubbed after Vigoda demanded more money for a third season than the producers were willing to pay.[11]

Before Barney Miller, he made a few appearances on the ABC TV soap Dark Shadows as Ezra Braithwaite and Otis Greene.[1]

Mistaken reports of his death

Abe Vigoda, June 2007

In 1982 People magazine mistakenly referred to Vigoda as dead. At the time, Vigoda was performing in a stage play in Calgary.[12] 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.[13] The edited (erroneous) version was what went to print.[13]

The same mistake was made in 1987 when a reporter for television station WWOR, Channel 9 in Secaucus, New Jersey, mistakenly referred to him as "the late Abe Vigoda".[14] She realized and corrected her mistake the next day.[14]

Vigoda has been the subject of many running gags pertaining to the mistaken reports of his death. In 1997, Vigoda appeared in the film Good Burger as the character Otis, a restaurant's French fry man. Several jokes were made about his advanced age, including Otis saying "I should've died years ago." 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 mounted with only one purpose: to report whether Vigoda was dead or alive.[15][16][17] In 2005, a "tongue-in-cheek" Firefox extension was released with the sole purpose of telling the browser user Vigoda's status.[14][18]

Continuing with the gag, Vigoda appeared frequently to make fun of his status on the television show Late Night with Conan O'Brien, including a guest appearance on the show's final episode.

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. On December 30, 2009, Vigoda was invited back to The Today Show to appear live on the set for Matt Lauer's birthday party. Lauer called him "our favorite guest of all times". Vigoda returned to The Today Show on June 8, 2011, to celebrate Meredith Vieira's last day on the show. On September 8, 2014, Vigoda again appeared on the Today Show to wish Meredith Vieira "good luck" with her new show premiering that day. In the 1998 New York Friars' Club roast of Drew Carey, with Vigoda in the audience, comedian Jeffrey Ross joked, "my one regret is that Abe Vigoda isn't alive to see this". He followed that with "Drew, you're a big gambler, what's the over-under on Abe Vigoda?"[19]

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 plot made fun of the advanced age of the actors. The USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter poll respondents rated the ad the highest of any shown during the game.[20]

Abe Vigoda was revealed to be the Wombat, a furried, dancing character who was part of the "Abe Vigoda Dancers", during the band Phish's performance at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on October 31, 2013.[21] The band was performing the tune "Wombat", from their album Fuego. He also was featured in a short, a takeoff of his Godfather performance featuring members of the band, which was broadcast after the second set in the LivePhish simulcast.[22]

Personal life

Vigoda was married to Beatrice Schy from February 25, 1968, until her death on April 30, 1992. The couple had one daughter, Carol.[5] Vigoda enjoys playing handball,[12] and stated in an interview that he was "almost" a champion at the game in his youth.[10]


Television work


  1. ^ a b c d Hamrick, Craig; Jamison, R. J. (2012). Barnabas & Company: The Cast of the TV Classic Dark Shadows. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse. p. 445.  
  2. ^ U.S. Census, April 1, 1930, State of New York, County of Kings, Borough of Brooklyn, enumeration district 566, p. 14-A, family 10.
  3. ^ "Abe Vigoda Biography (1921-)". Film Reference. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  4. ^ "Gil Kane, Interviewed by Gary Groth, Excerpted from The Comics Journal #186". The Comics Journal. Archived from the original on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c "Abe Vigoda Biography".  
  6. ^ Marguiles, Lee (April 18, 1976). "Fame Comes Late to "Sad-faced" Vigoda".  
  7. ^ Schumacher, Michael (1999). Francis Ford Coppola: a filmmaker's life. New York, NY: Crown. p. 164.  
  8. ^ The Godfather: Widescreen Collection (DVD).  
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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.  
  11. ^ 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.  
  12. ^ a b Leopold, Todd (September 23, 2008). "Abe Vigoda is still alive, thank you very much". CNN Entertainment. Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Silverman, Craig; Jarvis, Jeff (2009). Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. Sterling. pp. 174–175.  
  14. ^ a b c Brioux, Bill (2007). Truth and rumors: the reality behind TV's most famous myths. The Praeger television collection. Greenwood. pp. 114–115.  
  15. ^ "Whois Record For". DomainTools. Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  16. ^ Ceilán, Cynthia (2007). Thinning the Herd: Tales of the Weirdly Departed. Globe Pequot. p. 210.  
  17. ^ "Vigoda's non-death (he is now 88) is a pop culture meme to this day., for example, does only one thing: indicate whether Abe is alive or dead.".  
  18. ^ "Abe Vigoda Status". Maximum PC: 33. Spring 2006. 
  19. ^  
  20. ^ Othmer, James P. (February 8, 2010). "Super Bowl Ads Play It Safe". The Daily Beast. Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  21. ^ Eisen, Buddy (November 1, 2013). "Phish Treat Fans to Unrecorded New Album on Halloween". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Phish Spoofs The Godfather With Abe Vigoda : Blogs : Relix". Relix. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 

External links

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