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Abraham Vigoda

Also Known As: "Abe"
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, Kings County, New York, United States
Death: January 26, 2016 (94)
Woodland Park, Passaic County, New Jersey, United States (natural causes)
Place of Burial: New Jersey, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Samuel Vigoda and Lena Vigoda
Husband of Beatrice Vigoda
Ex-husband of Sonja Vigoda
Father of Private and Carol Vigoda-Fuchs
Brother of Bill Vigoda; Hy Vigoda and Shirley Vigoda

Occupation: Actor, Actor Performer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Abe Vigoda

Abraham Charles "Abe" Vigoda (/vᵻˈɡoʊdə/; February 24, 1921 – January 26, 2016) was an American film and television actor. He was known for a number of roles, especially his portrayals of Salvatore Tessio in the Francis Ford Coppola film The Godfather, and for his portrayal of Detective Sgt. Phil Fish on the television sitcom series Barney Miller from 1975 to 1977 and its spinoff show Fish in 1978, both on ABC.

Vigoda died on January 26, 2016, at his daughter's home in Woodland Park, New Jersey.

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

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

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). 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. 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 did not have agents could come in for an audition. He gained further fame playing Detective Sgt. 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 his perfection for the role.

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, 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.

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

Mistaken reports of his death

In 1982 People magazine mistakenly referred to Vigoda as dead. At the time, Vigoda, age 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.

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". She realized and corrected her mistake the next day.

Vigoda had 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 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 mounted with only one purpose: to report whether Vigoda was dead or alive. 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, 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. In the 1998 New York Friars Club roast of Drew Carey, with Vigoda in the audience, comedian Jeff 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?" 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 plot 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.

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

On January 22, 2016, Vigoda's nephew reported that 94-year-old Abe Vigoda was dying and was receiving hospice care, having stopped taking his medication. He died four days later in his sleep at his daughter's home in Woodland Park, New Jersey. He was survived by his daughter, three grandchildren and a great-grandson.

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Abe Vigoda's Timeline

February 24, 1921
Brooklyn, New York, Kings County, New York, United States
January 26, 2016
Age 94
Woodland Park, Passaic County, New Jersey, United States
January 30, 2016
Age 94
New Jersey, United States
Thomas Jefferson High School