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Abe Vigoda - Biography

Abe Vigoda (born February 24, 1921) is an American movie and television actor. Vigoda is well known for his portrayal of Sal Tessio in The Godfather, and for his portrayal of Detective Sgt. Phil Fish on the sitcom television series Barney Miller from 1975–1977 and on its spinoff show Fish that aired from February 1977 to June 1978 on ABC. Vigoda was still also appearing on Barney Miller at the same time as he was on Fish during the 1976–1977 TV season; at the start of the 1977–1978 season, his character retired from the police force and left Barney Miller to focus full time on the spinoff.

Following an erroneous report of his death in 1982, and another in 1987, Vigoda has been the subject of various running gags about whether he is alive or dead. A website was mounted and a Firefox extension was written solely to report on Vigoda's status. Good naturedly, he made regular appearances on various television shows to make fun of the error. In February 2010, Vigoda appeared with fellow octogenarian Betty White in a widely seen and well-liked Superbowl ad for Snickers candy bars.

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Early life and family

Vigoda was born in New York City, the son of Lena (née Moses) and Samuel Vigoda, Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father was a tailor and had three sons; Abe Vigoda, Hy Vigoda and Bill Vigoda, was a comic-book artist who drew for the Archie comics franchise and others in the 1940s.

Vigoda was married to Beatrice Schy from February 25, 1968 until her death on April 30, 1992. Abe has one daughter, Carol, from a previous wife, Sonja Gohlke. Carol gave him three grandsons: Jaime, Paulie, and Steven. Vigoda enjoys playing handball.

Career

Vigoda gained fame mostly as a supporting character. His best known role is that of elder mobster Salvatore Tessio in The Godfather (1972). 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. He gained further fame playing Detective Sgt. Phil Fish on Barney Miller, and then led its brief spinoff Fish until it was canceled in 1978. Before Barney Miller, he made a few appearances on the ABC TV soap Dark Shadows as Ezra Braithwaite and Otis Greene. He has also appeared in several Broadway productions, including Marat/Sade (1967), The Man in the Glass Booth (1968), Inquest (1970), Tough to Get Help (1972), and Arsenic and Old Lace (1987). His trademark hunched posture and slow delivery of lines made him appear older than he really was.

False reports of his death

In 1982, People magazine referred to Vigoda as dead. At the time, Vigoda was performing in a stage play in Calgary. He took the error with good humor, posing for a photograph published in Variety in which he was sitting up in a coffin, holding the mistaken 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 error was repeated in 1987 when a reporter for Secaucus, New Jersey, television station WWOR, Channel 9 erroneously referred to him as "the late Abe Vigoda". She corrected her mistake the next day.

Vigoda has been the subject of many running gags related to 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 Web site was mounted with only one purpose: to report whether Vigoda was 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 cameo on that 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. In a Comedy Central Roast of Drew Carey, with Abe Vigoda present in the audience, comedian Jeffrey Ross stated "and 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?"

Vigoda and Betty White, both 88 years old at the time, appeared together in "Game", a Snickers commercial that debuted during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010. The plot made fun of the advanced ages of the two actors. The USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter poll respondents rated the ad the highest of any shown during the game.

Filmography

  • Three Rooms in Manhattan (1965)
  • The Godfather (1972)
  • The Don Is Dead (1973)
  • Newman's Law (1974)
  • The Godfather Part II (1974)
  • The Cheap Detective (1978)
  • Cannonball Run II (1984)
  • The Stuff (1985) (cameo)
  • Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter (1986)
  • Keaton's Cop (1988)
  • Plain Clothes (1988)
  • Look Who's Talking (1989)
  • Prancer (1989)
  • Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
  • Fist of Honor (1993)
  • Me and the Kid (1993)
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) (voice)
  • Home of Angels (1994)
  • Sugar Hill (1994)
  • North (1994)
  • The Misery Brothers (1995)
  • Jury Duty (1995)
  • Love Is All There Is (1996)
  • Underworld (1996)
  • Me and the Gods (1997)
  • A Brooklyn State of Mind (1997)
  • Good Burger (1997)
  • Just the Ticket (1999)
  • Tea Cake or Cannoli (2000)
  • Crime Spree (2003)
  • Chump Change (2004)
  • Farce of the Penguins (2007) (voice)
  • Frankie the Squirrel (2007)
  • The Unknown Trilogy (2008)

Television work

  • Studio One (1949)
  • Dark Shadows (cast member in 1969)
  • The Devil's Daughter (1973)
  • Toma (1973)
  • The Story of Pretty Boy Floyd (1974)
  • The Rockford Files (1974)
  • Hawaii Five-O (1974)
  • Barney Miller (cast member from 1975–1977)
  • The Bionic Woman (1976)
  • Having Babies (1976)
  • Fish (1977–1978)
  • Soap (1978)
  • The Comedy Company (1978)
  • How to Pick Up Girls! (1978)
  • Death Car on the Freeway (1979)
  • B. J. and the Bear (1980)
  • Gridlock (1980)
  • The Big Stuffed Dog (1981)
  • As the World Turns (cast member in 1985)
  • Tales from the Darkside - A Choice of Dreams in 1986
  • Superboy - "Back to Oblivion"
  • Santa Barbara (cast member in 1989)
  • MacGyver (ep. 7 season 6)
  • Lucky Luke (1993) (canceled after 8 episodes)
  • Law & Order (1995) (1 ep. as Briscoe's retired partner)
  • Wings (NBC TV series) (1996)
  • Witness to the Mob (1998)
  • The Norm Show (1999) (1 ep. as Sal)
  • Late Night with Conan O'Brien (recurring character)
  • Family Guy (2001) (Cameo)


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