Veteran Actor Abe Vigoda of 'Godfather,' 'Barney Miller,' Dies at 94: This Time It's Not a Hoax
Beloved character actor Abe Vigoda, famous for his roles as the recalcitrant detective in TV's "Barney Miller" and the traitorous lieutenant in "The Godfather," has died at age 94, his daughter announced.
The cause of death was old age, she said.
He had been a largely unknown New York theater actor until Francis Ford Coppola gave him the role of Sal Tessio in the first "Godfather" film in 1972.
In it, Vigoda delivered the famous line, "Tell Michael it was only business," as he is led away to his death for betraying the youngest son of the Corleone family.
But he is perhaps best remembered to millions of TV viewers for his portrayal of the grumpy Detective Fish in "Barney Miller" during the 1970s.
With his long, drooping face and his deadpan delivery, Vigoda's character could always be counted on to drop a curmudgeonly scene-stealing line.
He was 50 years old when Coppola gave him his big break. Before that, he had performed on Broadway and off, in a series plays over decades.
He told Vanity Fair in 2009 that he prepped for his role as a Corleone capo by roaming the Lower East Side in Manhattan. He said he "practically lived in Little Italy during the shoot."
He played the grizzled veteran Detective Fish until 1977, and was nominated for three Emmys.
From 1977 to 1978 he starred in a spinoff of the "Barney Miller" series titled "Fish" while still appearing on the original show.
In 1982, People magazine reported he had died. Vigoda shot back by placing an ad in the trade publication Variety, showing him sitting in a coffin holding a copy of the glossy celebrity magazine.
He also appeared in films including “Cannonball Run II,” ”Look Who’s Talking,” ”Joe Versus the Volcano” and “North."
The Beastie Boys also gave him a shout-out in the lyrics of one of their songs.
Vigoda is survived by his daughter, grandchildren Jamie, Paul and Steven, and a great-grandson.