Actor Abe Vigoda, known for 'Godfather' role, dies at age 94

Tue Jan 26, 2016 3:24pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Abe Vigoda, an American actor best known for roles in "The Godfather" and the 1970s sitcom "Barney Miller," died on Tuesday at the age of 94, after spending three decades jokingly refuting rumors of his demise.

Vigoda's daughter, Carol Vigoda Fuchs, said her father died at her home in New Jersey. "He died in his sleep, of natural causes. He was not sick," she told Reuters.

Vigoda, who was adept at drama and comedy with a hang-dog face, slouched posture and slow delivery, played mobster traitor Salvatore Tessio in "The Godfather" in 1972, his first credited movie role. His character was doomed for betraying the Corleone family in the film but had a cameo role in the flashback scenes of "The Godfather Part II" two years later.

His most famous role was as the grumpy and deadpan Detective Sergeant Phil Fish in the "Barney Miller" police comedy series. He picked up three supporting-actor Emmy nominations for the part.

Vigoda spent years amiably proving he was still alive after People magazine mistakenly declared him "the late Abe Vigoda" in 1982, when he was 62. The question of his mortality became a running gag that he learned to live with.

To disprove the People report, he posed for a photo sitting in a coffin. His alive-or-dead status became an often-revisited joke in his appearances on Conan O'Brien's late-night show and in a skit on David Letterman's show, he curtly advised the host, "I'm not dead yet, you pinhead!"

Vigoda also had roles in films where his longevity was the joke and appeared with the equally well-seasoned actress Betty White in a commercial during the Super Bowl in February 2010.

The website was set up simply to give his status - "Abe Vigoda is alive" - above a photo of the actor and a date/time stamp. On Tuesday, that was changed to "Abe Vigoda is dead."

Born in New York City on Feb. 24, 1921, Abraham Charles Vigodah was the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father was a tailor.   Continued...

Actor Abe Vigoda smiles as he attends the Friars Club Roast of Betty White in New York May 16, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly