The actor Chaim Topol, best known for his portrayal of milkman Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof, has died at the age of 87, Israel’s president has said.
His death was confirmed by President Isaac Herzog, who described Topol as “one of the giants of Israeli culture”.
Topol was Oscar nominated for his performance in the 1971 film adaptation of the musical.
His other famous film role included in Flash Gordon, Follow Me, and the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.
Herzog described Topol, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago, as “a gifted actor who conquered many stages in Israel and overseas, filled the cinema screens with his presence and above all entered deep into our hearts”.
The actor, singer and illustrator, he added, had “represented us with great respect”.
‘Can never top Topol’
Israeli-British TV personality Uri Geller led the tributes, sharing a picture of himself with the “sweet and modest” late star, and former Israeli President Shimon Peres.
British actor and comedian Omid Djalili also paid his respects, posting: “Anyone who plays Tevye knows he can never top Topol. God rest his soul.”
Meanwhile, Frozen actor Josh Gad offered: “There is no way to overstate how much this man and this performance meant to me.
“Topol is a large reason why I became an actor. In fact, his performance of Tevye in Fiddler was the very first performance I ever saw on a Broadway stage. RIP to a great.”
Topol was born in Tel Aviv in 1935, and began his acting career in an entertainment troupe during his Israeli army service.
He rose to prominence in the Israeli comedy Sallah Shabati, which depicted the hardships of a Mizrachi Jewish immigrant family in Israel of the early 1960s, won him an early Golden Globe award for most promising male newcomer.
Film roles followed in both Israel and the US, including the 1975 adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo, the 1980 sci-fi adventure Flash Gordon, alongside Brian Blessed, and opposite Sir Roger Moore in the 1981 James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.
But it was for playing Tevye, a troubled milkman in the village of Anatevka who attempts to maintain his Jewish traditions by marrying off his five daughters, that he will be most remembered.
The role, which saw him perform songs such as If I Were a Rich Man, scored him a second Golden Globe, this time for best actor.
He was on active duty with the Israeli army when he was received his Academy Award nomination – becoming the first Israeli actor to do so – in 1972. But he was granted leave so he could attend the ceremony in Los Angeles.
Speaking to Desert Island Discs in 1983, the actor said he still believed the producers “were very brave to let me have that part”.
“Considering that I was 30 years old, considering that my English was so limited – a vocabulary of 50 words – I still don’t understand how they let me have it.”
The decision to cast Topol, instead of US actor Zero Mostel, who had made the role famous on stage, was a controversial one at the time but he later thanked his predecessor.
“Anyone who ever plays Tevye should be thankful to Zero Mostel,” Topol was once quoted as saying. “He gave us all room and I know I wouldn’t have done the movie without the advantage of a year’s rehearsal on stage.”
Reprising the role in the 1991 Broadway revival of Fiddler On the Roof, he was also nominated for a Tony Award for best actor.
Topol would play the part more than 3,500 times on both stage and screen from the late 1960s until 2009.
Away from acting, the charitable star founded Variety Israel, an organisation that provides support for children living with disabilities and their families.
He also served as the president of Jordan River Village, a free overnight camp for sick Israeli children.
In 2005, Topol was voted the 90th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet. And 10 years later, he was awarded the Israel Prize – the country’s most prestigious award – for lifetime achievement and special contribution to society and the state.
He is survived by his wife Galia and their three children.
His son Omer Topol, this week called his father an “amazing actor who developed all kinds of tactics to cover up the problems that began to arise”.
“When he won the Israel Prize, his Alzheimer’s was in its early stages,” he confirmed.
“He spoke wonderfully at the ceremony, and also at other events, and no one even felt it.”
Source – BBC News