Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye Bows Out

Israeli actor and icon Chaim Topol dies at 87
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 9, 2023 10:50 AM CST
Fiddler on the Roof 's Tevye Bows Out
Israeli actor Chaim Topol speaks during an interview in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 8, 2015.   (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

Chaim Topol, a leading Israeli actor who charmed generations of theatergoers and movie-watchers with his portrayal of Tevye, the long-suffering and charismatic milkman in Fiddler on the Roof, has died in Tel Aviv, Israeli leaders said Thursday, per the AP. He was 87. The cause wasn't immediately released. Israeli leaders on Thursday tweeted their memories and condolences to Topol's family. Israel's ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, hailed Topol as "one of the most outstanding Israeli actors," who "filled the movie screens with his presence and above all entered deep into our hearts."

Benny Gantz, Israel's former minister of defense, praised Topol for helping Israelis connect to their roots. "We laughed and cried at the same time over the deepest wounds of Israeli society," he wrote of Topol's performance. Yair Lapid, head of Israel's opposition, said Topol taught Israelis "love of culture and love of the land." Topol's charity, Jordan River Village, through which he served Middle Eastern children with life-threatening diseases, also announced his death, paying tribute to him as an "inspiration" whose "legacy will continue for generations to come." A recipient of two Golden Globe awards and nominee for both an Academy Award and a Tony Award, Topol long has ranked among Israel's most decorated actors.

He got his start in acting in a theatrical troupe in the Israeli army in the 1950s, where he met his future wife, Galia. His first major breakthrough was the lead role in the 1964 hit Israeli film Sallah Shabati, about the hardships of Middle Eastern immigrants to Israel. The film made history as the first Israeli film to earn an Academy Award nomination and also gave Topol his first Golden Globe Award. Two years later, he made his English-language film debut alongside Kirk Douglas in Cast a Giant Shadow. But the role of his life arrived in the long-running musical Fiddler on the Roof, in which he played the protagonist, Tevye, a Jewish father trying to maintain his family's cultural traditions despite the turmoil gripping their Russian shtetl.

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After years of playing Tevye on stage in London and on Broadway, he scored the lead role in the 1971 Norman Jewison-directed film version, winning the Golden Globe award for lead actor and earning a nomination for a best actor Academy Award. Topol also starred in more than 30 other movies, including as the lead in Galileo, Dr. Hans Zarkov in Flash Gordon, and James Bond's foil-turned-ally Milos Columbo in For Your Eyes Only alongside Roger Moore. In 2015, he was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement, his country's most prestigious honor. Topol is survived by his wife and three children. (Read more obituary stories.)

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