THE world-weary Abe Vigoda, who died at the ripe old age of 94, started life old. His first-grade teacher formed a drama group and needed someone to portray Baron von Richenhoffen, a 50-year-old gent who finds his wife in the closet with a strange man. She looked around and settled on a dour child. “You look old, Abe. I think you’ll do for the part.”
So at the tender age of six Abe was thrust into show business. Even though he was often typecast as a heavy, he actually started out in comedy. He was a regular on NBC’s All Star Revue, a live variety show in the 1950s that featured such stars as Jimmy Durante, Ed Wynn, Danny Thomas, George Jessel and Tallulah Bankhead.
Success came to him late in life when he made his mark as the Mafia capo Sal Tessio in the 1972 blockbuster The Godfather. But he didn’t become affluent until he moved to this side of the law. He won fame as the decrepit Detective Phil Fish in the ABC series Barney Miller (1975-82).
The actor with the mournful countenance died in his sleep on Jan. 26, 2016, at the home of his daughter, Carol Vigoda Fuchs, in Woodland Park, N.J.