Abe Vigoda

Actor
Image was everything in Hollywood, and Abe Vigoda's unusual look became his ticket to fame and fortune. The dour-faced character actor was best known for playing gritty Mafioso types, most notably as the scheming Tessio ... Read more »
Born: 02/24/1921 in New York City, New York, USA

Filmography

Actor (65)

Soho They Call It 2014 (Movie)

(Actor)

High School USA! 2013 (Tv Show)

Voice

TV Land Awards: A Celebration of Classic TV 2004 - 2005 (TV Show)

Actor

Crime Spree 2003 (Movie)

Giancarlo (Actor)

The End of the Bar 2002 (Movie)

(Actor)

Family Guy 2001 (Tv Show)

Voice

Chump Change 1999 (Movie)

(Actor)

Diagnosis Murder 1994 - 1999 (Tv Show)

Actor

Just the Ticket 1999 (Movie)

Arty (Actor)

Mad About You 1999 (Tv Show)

Actor

Murder, She Wrote 1990 - 1991, 1994 - 1999 (Tv Show)

Actor

Promised Land 1996 - 1999 (Tv Show)

Actor

The Norm Show 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

The Reel to Reel Picture Show 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

The Misery Brothers 1998 (Movie)

(Actor)

Good Burger 1997 (Movie)

Otis (Actor)

Underworld 1997 (Movie)

Will Cassady (Actor)

Wings 1996 - 1997 (Tv Show)

Actor

A Brooklyn State of Mind 1996 (Movie)

Uncle Guy (Actor)

Law & Order 1996 (Tv Show)

Actor

Love Is All There Is 1996 (Movie)

Rudy (Actor)

Jury Duty 1995 (Movie)

Judge Powell (Actor)

North 1994 (Movie)

Alaskan Grandpa (Actor)

Sugar Hill 1994 (Movie)

Gus Molino (Actor)

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm 1993 (Movie)

of Salvatore Valestra (Voice)

Fist of Honor 1993 (Movie)

Victor Malucci (Actor)

Home of Angels 1993 (Movie)

Henry Bruggers (Actor)

Me and the Kid 1993 (Movie)

(Actor)

Santa Barbara 1983 - 1993 (TV Show)

Actor

Joe Versus the Volcano 1990 (Movie)

Waponi Chief (Actor)

Keaton's Cop 1990 (Movie)

Louie Keaton (Actor)

Night of 100 Stars III 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

The Greatest Practical Jokes of All Time 1989 - 1990 (TV Show)

Actor

Look Who's Talking 1989 (Movie)

Grandpa (Actor)

Prancer 1989 (Movie)

Orel Benton (Actor)

The Dancer's Touch 1988 - 1989 (TV Show)

Actor

Plain Clothes 1988 (Movie)

Mr Wiseman--History Teacher (Actor)

Vasectomy, a Delicate Matter 1986 (Movie)

Detective Edwards (Actor)

The Stuff 1985 (Movie)

Commercial Spokesperson (Actor)

Cannonball Run II 1984 (Movie)

Caesar (Actor)

Barney Miller 1974 - 1982 (TV Show)

Actor

The Big Stuffed Dog 1979 - 1980 (TV Show)

Actor

Circus of the Stars 1977 - 1978 (TV Show)

Actor

The Cheap Detective 1978 (Movie)

Sergeant Rizzuto (Actor)

Alan King's Final Warning 1976 - 1977 (TV Show)

Actor

Circus of the Stars 1976 - 1977 (TV Show)

Actor

Dean Martin's Red Hot Scandals Part 2 1976 - 1977 (TV Show)

Actor

Dean Martin's Red Hot Scandals of 1926 1976 - 1977 (TV Show)

Actor

Bob Hope Special: Bob Hope in "Joys" 1975 - 1976 (TV Show)

Actor

Newman's Law 1974 (Movie)

Dellanzia (Actor)

The Godfather, Part II 1974 (Movie)

Tessio (Actor)

Toma 1972 - 1973 (TV Show)

Actor

The Don Is Dead 1972 (Movie)

Don Tolusso (Actor)

The Godfather 1972 (Movie)

Tessio (Actor)

Dark Shadows 1965 - 1971 (TV Show)

Actor

Death Car on the Freeway (TV Show)

Actor

Fish (TV Show)

Actor

Having Babies (TV Show)

Actor

How to Pick Up Girls! (TV Show)

Actor

The Comedy Company (TV Show)

Actor

The Devil's Daughter (TV Show)

Actor

Witness to the Mob (TV Show)

Actor

Biography

Image was everything in Hollywood, and Abe Vigoda's unusual look became his ticket to fame and fortune. The dour-faced character actor was best known for playing gritty Mafioso types, most notably as the scheming Tessio in "The Godfather" (1972) and and "The Godfather: Part II" (1974). But he was more than just a tough guy; he was also a gifted comedic actor. Audiences remembered him as the aging, cynical Detective Sgt. Phil Fish on the hit sitcom "Barney Miller" (ABC, 1975-1982) - a role that earned Vigoda Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for three years in a row, between 1976 and 1978. It wasn't until 1982, however, when the actor really made headlines after a People magazine article mistakenly reported he was dead. Vigoda had a good laugh over it and always appeared to be in on the joke. The question "Is Abe Vigoda still alive?" lasted for several years, resurfacing in skits for David Letterman and Conan O'Brien's late night shows, ironically giving the actor a new life as a beloved TV icon to generations of viewers not even born when he was stealing scenes on "Barnery Miller."

Abraham Charles Vigodah was born on Feb. 24, 1921 in New York City. His parents, Lena and Samuel Vigodah, were Jewish immigrants from Russia. His brother Bill later became a comic book artist. Young Vigoda made his stage debut at age 17 and was a prolific theater actor in New York and on the road for more than 20 years. His Broadway credits include "Marat/Sade" (1967); "The Man in the Glass Booth" (1968); "Richard II," where he played John of Gaunt for the New York Shakespeare Festival; "Tough to Get Help" (1972) as Abraham Lincoln, and many others. He also played the straight man for Jimmy Durante and Ed Wynn on the variety show "All Star Revue" in the early 1950s.

Vigoda was already in his fifties when he hit the big time. His performance as the double-crossing mobster Tessio in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" (1972) launched his film career. Coppola said he selected Vigoda from an open casting call of 500 unknown actors who auditioned for the role. In a memorable scene from the film, he pleaded with Robert Duvall to get him off the hook "for old time's sake." He also appeared in the movie's equally successful sequel in 1974. After that life-changing role, Vigoda took on numerous film projects including "Cannonball Run II" (1984), "Joe Versus the Volcano" (1990), "Sugar Hill" (1994) and "Look Who's Talking" (1989) as John Travolta's 100-year-old grandfather. He also lent his voice to bring to life Salvatore "The Wheezer" Valestra, one of Gotham City's most powerful crime bosses in "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" in 1993. But Vigoda scored his most memorable role as Sgt. Fish on the dry police precinct sitcom "Barney Miller," starring Hal Linden as the title character, surrounded by a series of eccentric boobs who just happened to be his fellow police officers. Vigoda's deadpan delivery made him a TV star and even provided him his own spin-off series, "Fish" (ABC, 1977-78), where he played a retired police officer that had to deal with troublesome schoolchildren.

Although Vigoda often looked lifeless and haggard as Sgt. Fish, the actor certainly never imagined his looks would fuel a rumor that refused to fade for decades. In 1982, People magazine erroneously referred to him as "the late Abe Vigoda." While the actor insisted that the error cost him acting jobs, he took it all in stride, even posing for a photograph showing him sitting up in a coffin, holding up the magazine. The rumor started up again in 1987 when a television reporter mistakenly referred to him as "the late Abe Vigoda." From that moment on, questions and rumors of Vigoda's "demise" became such a long running pop cultural joke, that late night TV hosts loved to incorporate him into their offbeat skits from time to time. During one "Late Night with David Letterman" (NBC, 1982-1993) skit, the host was shown trying to summon Vigoda's ghost. The actor suddenly walked in and declared, "I'm not dead, you idiot!" Vigoda was also a recurring guest on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (NBC, 1993- ). During a 2006 sketch, O'Brien showed an audience member summoning the dead; of course the "deceased" person was Vigoda. During "Comedy Central Presents: The N.Y. Friars Club Roast of Drew Carey" (Comedy Central, 1998), with Vigoda present in the office, comedian Jeffrey Ross announced "and my one regret is that Abe Vigoda isn't alive to see this." In 1999, the persistent rumor almost came true when Vigoda was a passenger on an American Airlines flight that lost pressure at 31,000 feet. The plane made an emergency landing and everyone survived. The website, www.abevigoda.com, was even created for the sole purpose of announcing whether the actor was still alive or not.

By Marc Cuenco

Relationships

Beatrice Vigoda

Wife
Married Feb. 25, 1968 Died on April 30, 1992

Samuel Vigoda

Father

Lena Vigoda

Mother

Carol Vigoda

Daughter

Hy Vigoda

Brother

Bill Vigoda

Brother

EDUCATION

Theatre School of Dramatic Arts, Carnegie Hall

New York , New York

Milestones

2010

Co-starred with Betty White in a Snickers commercial that debuted during "Super Bowl XLIV" telecast (CBS)

2006

Reprised Tessio role in voiceover for series of video games based on "The Godfather"

2005

Began a series of hilarious cameos and guest appearances on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (NBC)

1998

Featured in the NBC movie "Witness to the Mob" opposite Nicholas Turturro, Tom Sizemore, and Debi Mazar

1997

Character he played in "Good Burger" uttered the punchline "I should've died years ago," referring to the actor's running gag

1993

Co-starred in the martial arts drama "Fist of Honor"

1989

Played the grandpa in the comedy feature "Look Who's Talking"

1987

Reporter for Secaucus, NJ station WWOR Channel 9 erroneously referred to him as "the late Abe Vigoda," which started a running gag about his "death"

1987

Played the role of the murderous Jonathan Brewster in the Broadway revival of Joseph Kesselring's classic black comedy "Arsenic and Old Lace"

1982

Erroneously reported as having died by People magazine; claimed the error cost him work

1977

Carried over the role of Phil Fish to the ABC spinoff comedy series "Fish"; continued to play the role on "Barney Miller" as well for a time in 1977; after "Fish" went off the air, asked to return to "Barney Miller," but the producers felt he wanted too m

1976

Booked into another project that delayed the start of shooting the second season of "Barney Miller"; producer Danny Arnold insisted that he report for work; Vigoda sued, and Arnold countersued (date approximate)

1974

Played Sergeant Phil Fish on the ABC comedy series "Barney Miller"; received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (1976, 1977, 1978)

1974

Reprised the role of Tessio for the sequel "The Godfather, Part II"

1973

TV-movie debut, "The Devil's Daughter" (ABC)

1972

First prominent feature film credit, as double-crossing mobster Tessio in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather"

1968

Played brief recurring role of Ezra Braithwaite on the ABC cult gothic horror serial "Dark Shadows"

1951

Acted as "straight man" for Jimmy Durante and Ed Wynn on the NBC variety show "All-Star Revue"

1927

Landed first acting role at age six, playing a 50-year-old man (date approximate)

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