Abe Vigoda, best known for his roles in “The Godfather” and the TV series “Barney Miller,” has died at age 94.
His daughter Carol Vigoda Fuchs told The Associated Press that Vigoda died of natural causes Tuesday morning in his sleep at Fuchs’ home in Woodland Park, New Jersey.
The sunken-eyed character actor worked in New York theater and in television until Francis Ford Coppola cast him in the “The Godfather,” which swept the 1972 Oscars and became one of the most-loved films of all time. Vigoda played Sal Tessio, who is revealed to be the traitor plotting to have Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) killed. Instead, it’s Tessio who takes a last ride. As he tells consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), “Tell Mike it was only business.”
Vigoda and Duvall reunited on an episode of “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” to enact a comical “extended” version of the scene where Tessio asks if they can stop at Baskin Robbins.
In 2013, Vigoda told SeniorSceneMag.com how he landed a role in “The Godfather,” “I was interviewed twice by Francis Ford Coppola. He told me he saw me in a performance on the stage. I was a stage actor and he wanted stage actors who were unknown to the movie audiences. Coppola went out to Hollywood to search for actors and returned to New York. He interviewed hundreds on both coasts. On his return, he interviewed me again. He saw something in me, he found his Tessio.”
Vigoda was flattered to be mistaken for a real life mobster. “There were always guys around the shoot,” he told SeniorSceneMag.com. “Some thought I was a gangster in real life. I accepted it as a compliment.” He also talked about working with star Marlon Brando. “I was lucky to work with some of the best actors of our time… I shared a dressing room with Brando. He was a prankster. He once put extra weights on a stretcher when people carried him out, just for laughs.”
The actor was a favorite of Dave Letterman’s as well, goodnaturedly appearing in a 1988 skit, “Abe Vigoda is Still Alive!” For years the website named Isabevigodadead.com advised people that no, the actor had not died yet. Given the running joke about the actor’s demise over the years, today’s TMZ headline about his death adds “(Not a Hoax).”
Vigoda was also known for his role as the dour Detective Fish on the ’70s police sitcom “Barney Miller,” which led to the spin-off “Fish.”
In 2010, he appeared with Betty White in a hilarious and much-downloaded Super Bowl “Snickers” commercial.
As Vigoda said in 2013, “The secret is to do what you love and love what you do. I believe what doctors tell me that it is possible to live to 127 years old.”
His many films include “Sugar Hill,” “North,” “The Cheap Detective,” “Jury Duty,” “Joe vs. the Volcano,” and “A Brooklyn State of Mind.” He guest starred on TV series including “Dark Shadows,” “The Love Boat,” “The Rockford Files,” “Law & Order” and “Touched by an Angel.”