Abe Vigoda Biography

Television Actor, Actor, Theater Actor, Film Actor (1921–2016)
Abe Vigoda has been a popular character actor in television and film for more than four decades. He landed his film break with a role in The Godfather.


Abe Vigoda was born in New York City on February 24, 1921. After decades as a struggling actor, he began to attract the public's attention in the 1960s by landing a few notable stage roles. Vigoda's big break came in 1972 with a role in The Godfather. In 1975, he played another memorable role on the show Barney Miller. More recently, he lent his distinctive voice to the film Farce of the Penguins. Vigoda died on January 26, 2016, at the age of 94.

Early Career

Abe Vigoda was born Abraham Charles Vigoda on February 24, 1921, in New York City. With his gravelly voice and sunken eyes, Vigoda has been a popular character actor for more than four decades. The son of a tailor, he grew up on New York City's Lower East Side. Vigoda started acting as a teenager and studied his craft at the American Theatre Wing.

After decades as a struggling actor, Vigoda began to attract the public's attention in the 1960s. He landed a few notable stage roles, including a part in Harold Pinter's The Man in the Glass Booth in 1968. But his big break came in a form of a film role. He won the part of Salvatore "Sal" Tessio, the traitorous mobster in Francis Ford Coppola's epic about the Corleone crime family, The Godfather (1972). The film, which starred Al PacinoMarlon Brando and Robert Duvall, was a huge success both commercially and critically. Vigoda reprised his role for the sequel, The Godfather, Part II (1974).

Continued Success

Abe Vigoda took on another memorable role in 1975, as Detective Phil Fish on the situation comedy Barney Miller. The show starred Hal Linden as the title character, a police captain in New York City and followed his precinct's comical misadventures. Vigoda was a hit as a run-down, mopey, and almost retired detective. The character was so popular, in fact, that he got his own show, entitled Fish, in 1977. The new series looked at the private side of Detective Fish's life as he and his wife moved from the city to a new home where they took care of several foster children. The show had a short run, ending in 1978.

While his character Fish always appeared sluggish and on his last legs, Vigoda himself was healthy and an avid jogger. So it is difficult to imagine his reaction to his reported death in the early 1980s. According to an article in The New York Times, the mix-up started with a 1982 People magazine item that identified the actor as "the late Abe Vigoda." Despite the rumor, he was very much live and working. He appeared in several films, including Cannonball Run II (1984) with Burt Reynolds, and Look Who's Talking (1989) with John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.

Returning to prime-time television around this time, Vigoda made guest appearances on shows such as Fantasy Island; MacGyver; Murder, She Wrote; and Law & Order. He also had parts on the daytime dramas As the World Turns and Santa Barbara.

More recently, Vigoda lent his distinctive voice to the animated film Farce of the Penguins (2006) as well as to several video games based on The Godfather trilogy. Additionally, he served as a frequent guest on Late Night with Conan O'Brien for many years.

Personal and Death

Vigoda was married to Beatrice Schy from 1968 until her death in 1992. They had one child together, a daughter named Carol.

On January 26, 2016, Vigoda died peacefully in his sleep at his daughter's home in Woodland Park, New Jersey, at the age of 94. In response, Duvall issued a statement in which he noted it was "great working with Abe in The Godfather and wonderful to have him among us. We had some great memories together and he will really be missed."

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