WOODLAND PARK, N.J. – Abe Vigoda, best known for his role as Salvatore Tessio in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 adaptation of The Godfather, passed away on Tuesday, Jan. 26, in Woodland Park, N.J. at age 94.

He died in his sleep at his daughter Carol Vigoda Fuchs’ home, she told The Associated Press. Mr. Vigoda also left three grandchildren and a great-grandson. His second wife Beatrice Schy passed away in 1992.

Mr. Vigoda, son of Russian immigrants, was a 50-year-old stage actor who spent many years on and off Broadway performing Shakespeare, Strindberg and Shaw before he won the role in The Godfather.

Photo: CNN
Photo: CNN/Getty Images

“I’m really not a Mafia person,” Mr. Vigoda told Vanity Fair magazine in 2009. “I’m an actor who spent his life in the theater. But Francis said, ‘I want to look at the Mafia not as thugs and gangsters but like royalty in Rome.’ And he saw something in me that fit Tessio as one would look at the classics in Rome.”

In 1975, he was cast as the Detective Fish on the station-house series Barney Miller and stayed with the sitcom for two seasons, 1975-76 and 1976-77, and also played the opening episodes of a third. He earned three Emmy nominations for best supporting actor in a comedy series. “Barney Miller” continued until 1982 without Mr. Vigoda.

People magazine in 1982 wrongly reported that the actor had died. Variety helped him react by placing an ad with a picture featuring Mr. Vigoda sitting up in a coffin while holding a copy of the involved People’s issue. He was then invited to the late-night shows of David Letterman and Conan O’Brien to prove he was indeed alive.

The highly acclaimed actor, whose full name is Abraham Charles Vigoda, was born in New York City on Feb. 24, 1921. He had two brothers and started his acting career as a teenager, turning professional in 1947.

Abe Vigoda portraying Salvatore Tessio. Photo: Wikipedia/The Godfather movie Screenshot
Abe Vigoda portraying Salvatore Tessio. Photo: Wikipedia/The Godfather movie Screenshot

Aside from “The Godfather” and “Barney Miller”, Mr. Vigoda appeared in television movies and on many prime-time series such as “Law & Order”, “Mad About You” and “Touched by an Angel”. He was also seen on the soap operas “As the World Turns” in 1985 and “Santa Barbara” in 1989.

He was paid a fitting tribute on Conan O’Brien’s TBS show. The TV host told the audience the actor had been a huge part of his show in New York as he was often invited to do the silliest things.

The host expressed how grateful he was for all the laughter by showing highlights from Mr. Vigoda’s appearances on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien”, including a montage that featured him pretending to be “Godzilla”, dressed as a Christmas tree and imagining he was “Abe Vi-Yoda”.

Source: New York Times