Abraham Charles “Abe” Vigoda; (February 24, 1921 – January 26, 2016) was an American actor. He was known for a number of roles, especially his portrayals of Salvatore Tessio in the Francis Ford Coppola film The Godfather and Detective Sgt. Phil Fish on the ABC sitcom Barney Miller from 1975 to 1977 and its spinoff show Fish from 1977 to 1978.
In 1982 People magazine mistakenly referred to Vigoda as dead. At the time, Vigoda, age 60, was performing in a stage play in Calgary. He took the mistake with good humor, posing for a photograph published in Variety in which he was sitting up in a coffin, holding the erroneous issue of People. Jeff Jarvis, a People employee at the time, said that the magazine’s editors were known for “messing up” stories, and one of them repeatedly inserted the phrase “the late” in reference to Vigoda, even after a researcher correctly removed it. The edited (erroneous) version was what went to print.
The same mistake was made in 1987 when a reporter for television station WWOR, Channel 9 in Secaucus, New Jersey, mistakenly referred to him as “the late Abe Vigoda”. She realized and corrected her mistake the next day.
Vigoda had been the subject of many running gags pertaining to the mistaken reports of his death. In 1997, Vigoda appeared in the film Good Burger as the character Otis, a restaurant’s French fry man. Several jokes were made about his advanced age, including his character Otis saying “I should’ve died years ago.” That same year he was shopping at Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan when the salesman remarked, “You look like Abe Vigoda. But you can’t be Abe Vigoda because he’s dead.” A Late Night with David Letterman skit showed Letterman trying to summon Vigoda’s ghost, but Vigoda walked in and declared, “I’m not dead yet, you pinhead!” At a New York Friars Club roast of Rob Reiner which Vigoda attended, comedian Billy Crystal wise-cracked, “I have nothing to say about Abe. I was always taught to speak well of the dead.”
In May 2001, a website was mounted with only one purpose: to report whether Vigoda was dead or alive. In 2005, a “tongue-in-cheek” Firefox extension was released with the sole purpose of telling the browser user Vigoda’s status.
Continuing with the gag, Vigoda appeared frequently to make fun of his status on the television show Late Night with Conan O’Brien, including a guest appearance on the show’s final episode. In the 1998 New York Friars Club roast of Drew Carey, with Vigoda in the audience, comedian Jeff Ross joked, “my one regret is that Abe Vigoda isn’t alive to see this”. He followed that with “Drew, you’re a big gambler, what’s the Over–under on Abe Vigoda?”
4 thoughts on “Abe Vigoda Dies, hopefully for the Last Time”
He died in The Godfather back in 1972! This man has been pronounced dead several times in my life. Strange days indeed, most peculiar momma, oh ya.
I have the first two seasons of Barney Miller. One of my top favorite comedy shows.
Agreed #1. Why it only went for so long remains a mystery, to me anyway. In my mind, they cancelled the best show on TV at the time.
I’m just bummed I don’t have season 3, Millard.