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Abe Vigoda

Abe Vigoda, June 2007
Born Abraham Charles Vigoda
February 24, 1921 (1921-02-24) (age 89)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1949–present
Spouse(s) Beatrice Schy, 1968–1992 (her death)

Abraham Charles "Abe" Vigoda (pronounced /vɨˈɡoʊdə/; born February 24, 1921) is an American movie and television actor. Vigoda is known for his portrayal of Sal Tessio in The Godfather, but he is perhaps best known 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-June 1978 on ABC. Vigoda was actually 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.

He made regular appearances as himself (usually in skits relating to his "advanced age") on the television show Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and was honored with a cameo appearance on that show's final episode.


Early life and family

Vigoda was born in New York City, the son of Lena (née Moses) and Samuel Vigoda, Jewish immigrants from Russia.[1][2] His father was a tailor and his brother, Bill Vigoda, was a comic-book artist who drew for the Archie comics franchise and others in the 1940s.[3]

Vigoda was married once, to Beatrice Schy from February 25, 1968 until her death on April 30, 1992. They had one child, a daughter, Carol.[4]


Vigoda gained fame through his supporting character roles, notably as elder mobster Salvatore Tessio in The Godfather (1972). 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. 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.

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 in fact 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. Vigoda was warmly greeted by Lauer who called him "our favorite guest of all times" on the show. Vigoda then sat and discussed his long career with Lauer.

Vigoda appeared alongside Betty White in a Snickers commercial that debuted during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010.[5] The actor has also been honored with pop culture references, many in connection with false reports of his death (see below). Jazz bassist Eric Revis's song "Abe Vigoda" appears on saxophonist Branford Marsalis's 2009 album Metamorphosen.

False reports of his death

In 1982, People magazine erroneously declared him dead. Vigoda took the error with good humor, posing for a photograph showing him sitting up in a coffin, holding the magazine in question. This rumor was nearly started again in 1987 when a reporter for Secaucus, New Jersey television station WWOR, Channel 9 erroneously referred to him as "the late Abe Vigoda".[citation needed] She corrected herself on the air the next day.

Erroneous reports of Vigoda's death as well as questions of whether he is alive or dead have become a running joke:

  • lists Abe Vigoda's current state as dead or alive.
  • A Late Night with David Letterman skit showed Letterman trying to summon Vigoda's ghost. Vigoda then walked in and declared, "I'm not dead, you idiot!"
  • 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?"
  • In 2002, Greg Galcik recorded a song "Abe Vigoda's Dead", a parody of "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus.
  • In the show Yes, Dear Jimmy writes a song titled "Things I Think About at Work" with a line that says "I wonder if Abe Vigoda's still alive".
  • Vigoda appeared in the 1997 film Good Burger as the character Otis (he was the restaurant's french fry man). Several jokes were made about his age, including Fries himself saying "I should've died years ago" while wearing an oxygen tank.
  • A November 2006 Conan O'Brien sketch showed an audience member summoning the dead. The "deceased person" turned out to be Vigoda.
  • In a 2009 episode of Canadian television show Corner Gas titled "Reader Pride", Emma, Oscar and Karen argue about whether or not Vigoda is still alive.
  • A running gag on is to refer to Abe Vigoda as either "dead" or "not dead" in relationship to a celebrity that has died or has been reported to have died.



  • Small Town Hero (2010)
  • Mafioso II (2010)
  • The Driver (2010)

Television work


  1. ^ U.S. Census, April 1, 1930, State of New York, County of Kings, Borough of Brooklyn, enumeration district 566, p. 14-A, family 10.
  2. ^ Abe Vigoda from
  3. ^ Excerpts from interview with artist Gil Kane, The Comics Journal #186 (April 1986)
  4. ^ Abe Vigoda bio from the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Best of Super Bowl 2010 ads: Betty White, Abe Vigoda take the field and more from "Zap to It" online blog/zine. Feb. 7, 2010

External links

Simple English

Abe Vigoda
Born Abraham Charles Vigodah
February 24, 1921 (1921-02-24) (age 90)
New York City, U.S.
Other names Abe Vigoda
Occupation Actor
Years active 1949 – Present

Abe Vigoda (born February 24, 1921) is an actor in both television and movie. His most well known roles are playing mobster Sal Tessio in the movies The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, and playing Detective Phil Fish on television shows Barney Miller and Fish, Fish having been a spinoff of Barney Miller.

In 1982, People magazine said that Vigoda had died, even though he did not. Vigoda took the error with a sense of humor, even appearing in a picture where he was in a coffin, holding said magazine. Since then, the false death information, as well as the question to whether Vigoda is dead or alive, has been used as a joke sometimes on various television shows and internet websites, including, a website that says if Vigoda is alive or dead.

Other websites

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