Abe Vigoda, best known to audiences as the backstabbing Tessio in The Godfather and as Fish, the world weary yet witty and haggard cop on television’s Barney Miller, has died at the age of 94. Vigoda died at his daughter’s house in Woodland Hills, California in his sleep.
Because of such two high profile roles in his career, it seemed as if Vigoda had done a lot more than he actually did, but it was on the strength of those two aforementioned roles and also a memorable stint in the 1980s cult classic Joe Versus the Volcano, that made Abe Vigoda a household name. He also had obvious elements that helped create his legend, his colorful name for one and then his rubber faced, tall and limber physicality, with a voice straight out of Italy’s old country mixed in with that New York kind of flavor.
Vigoda had done Broadway plays and a few episodes of the vampire soaper Dark Shadows on television prior to his success in The Godfather as Tessio. As Tessio, Vigoda rubbed acting elbows with the likes of Marlon Brando, James Caan, Al Pacino, and Robert Duvall among others, and held his own in that heavyweight ensemble, portraying a character who seemed sensitive, yet obviously brutal considering the line of work he was in. As Detective Phil Fish on Barney Miller, he quickly became so popular that the character was spun off to his own program, simply titled Fish, to less success.
In the last 30 years of his life, Vigoda became almost the symbol for the “death hoaxes” that seem to have become now commonplace in today’s day and cyber age. Starting around 1982, it almost seemed that the headline “Abe Vigoda is Dead” became almost an annual ritual in the final decades of the man’s life, something he took in extreme stride and even had fun with, appearing on David Letterman’s show during the 1980s to exclaim to Letterman, who was convinced Vigoda had died and was trying to summon his ghost, “I’m not dead yet pinhead!”
But now unfortunately, it is a truism that Abe Vigoda is no longer with us. But the old standby legend of “the work will always be with us” remains on high. RIP to one of the great character actors and more colorful public figures that the entertainment industry has ever churned out.