Abe Vigoda

Active - 1972 - 2007  |   Born - Feb 24, 1921 in New York, New York, United States  |   Died - Jan 26, 2016   |   Genres - Comedy, Crime, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Slouch-shouldered, basset-faced character actor Abe Vigoda was the son of a Lower East Side tailor. Making his first stage appearance at 17, Vigoda used his GI Bill allotment to study at the American Theatre Wing. He then toiled away in obscurity for nearly 20 years before he was "discovered" by the public in the role of John the Gaunt in Joseph Papp's 1961 staging of Richard II. Another decade would pass before Vigoda attained worldwide fame as the treacherous Tessio in The Godfather. In 1974, he was tested for the minor role of Grimaldi in the upcoming TV sitcom Barney Miller; instead, he landed the role of dour, droopy-eyed Inspector Fish (and a good thing, too; the Grimaldi character was written out after only a few weeks). Vigoda remained with Barney Miller from 1975 to 1977, then was spun off into his own Fish series, which lasted until 1978. Bedeviled with legal problems during the early 1980s, Vigoda nonetheless was able to keep busy as a supporting actor in films (Joe vs. the Volcano, Look Who's Talking) and television; he also periodically returned to the stage, frequently in the Boris Karloff role in Arsenic and Old Lace. Abe Vigoda's 1990s projects have included such roles as Gus Molino in Harlem (1993) and Alaskan Grandpa in North (1994), a voice over stint in the 1994 animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantom, and a recurring role in the 1991 weekly-TV revival of Dark Shadows. He continued to work steadily appearing in a variety of projects including Jury Duty, Good Burger, and Just the Ticket. He worked intermittently in the 21st century, but Vigoda did star in a well-liked ad for a candy bar that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl and he became a regular face at celebrity roasts where he was often the butt of old age jokes. Vigoda died in 2016, at age 94.

Movie Highlights

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  • Made his first stage appearance at the age of 17. As a teenager, studied acting at the American Theatre Wing in New York City. Made his Broadway debut in Marat/Sade in 1968. Got his big break with a supporting role in the movie The Godfather (1972) after the age of 50. Was erroneously referred to as "the late" Abe Vigoda in a 1982 People magazine article and subsequently had to deny reports of his death for many years. Played Jonathan Brewster, a role originated by Boris Karloff, in the 1986 Broadway revival of Arsenic and Old Lace. Appeared in a 2010 Snickers Super Bowl commercial opposite Betty White.