Fiddler on the Roof star Chaim Topol dies at 87

Chaim Topol, a leader Israeli The actor who charmed generations of theatergoers and moviegoers with his portrayal of Tevye, the charismatic and enduring milkman in “Fiddler on the Roof,” has died in Tel Aviv, Israeli leaders announced Thursday. He was 87 years old.

The cause was not immediately disclosed.

Israeli leaders tweeted their memories and condolences to Topol’s family on Thursday.

Israel’s ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, hailed Topol as “one of the most outstanding Israeli actors”, who “filled cinema screens with his presence and above all entered deep into our hearts”.

Benny Gantz, Israel’s former defense minister, praised Topol for helping Israelis connect to their roots.

“We laughed and cried at the same time about the deepest wounds in Israeli society,” he wrote of Topol’s performance.

Yair Lapid, leader of the Israeli opposition, said Topol had taught Israelis “the love of culture and the love of the land”.

Topol’s charity, Jordan River Village, also announced his death, paying tribute to him as an “inspiration” whose “legacy will continue for generations to come”.

The recipient of two Golden Globe Awards and nominated for an Academy Award and a Tony Award, Topol has long ranked among Israel’s most decorated actors. Most recently, in 2015, he was celebrated for his contributions to film and culture with the Israel Lifetime Achievement Award, his country’s highest honor. Until a few years ago he remained involved in acting and said he always responded to requests to play Tevye.

Topol was one of Israel’s most famous actors.Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Topol got his start as an actor in an Israeli army theater troupe in the 1950s, where he met his future wife Galia. His first major breakthrough was the lead role in the hit 1964 Israeli film Sallah Shabati, about the plight of Middle Eastern immigrants in Israel. The film made history as the first Israeli film to earn an Oscar nomination and also gave Topol its first Golden Globe Award.

Two years later, he made his film debut in English alongside Kirk Douglas in “Cast a Giant Shadow”. But the role of his life came in the long-running musical Fiddler on the Roof, in which he played the milkman protagonist, Tevye, a Jewish father trying to maintain his family’s cultural traditions despite the turmoil gripping the country. their Russian shtetl.

With his rich voice, folksy wit and commanding stage presence, Tevye of Topol, driving his horse-drawn buggy and delivering milk, butter and eggs to the wealthy, became a folk hero in Israel and around the world. the world.

After years of playing Tevye on stage in London and on Broadway, he scored the lead in Norman Jewison’s 1971 film version, winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor and being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He lost to Gene Hackman in “The French Connection”.

Topol has performed the role more than 3,500 times on stage, most recently in 2009. With the help of heavy makeup and costume work, he first portrayed the much older, beefier milkman in his thirties and literally aged in the role.

Topol faced stiff competition for the role in Jewison’s hit film – dozens of talents have played Tevye in more than a dozen languages ​​since ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ first appeared. Topol said his personal experience as a descendant of Russian Jews helped him identify with Tevye and deepen his performance.

Chaim Topol in Tel Aviv in 2015.Ariel Schalit / AP file

In an interview with The Associated Press from his home in Tel Aviv in 2015, on the occasion of accepting the Israel Lifetime Achievement Award, Topol traced his meteoric rise from humble beginnings to worldwide fame.

“I wasn’t raised in Hollywood. I was brought up in a kibbutz,” he said. “Sometimes I’m surprised when I come to China or when I come to Tokyo or when I come to France or when I come anywhere and the immigration officer says to me ‘Topol, Topol, are you Topol?”

Topol has also starred in over 30 other films, including as the lead in ‘Galileo’, Dr. Hans Zarkov in ‘Flash Gordon’ and James Bond ally Milos Columbo in ‘For Your Eyes Only’ alongside by Roger Moore.

But he became synonymous with only one role – Tevye. Pouring out his heart to his impoverished Jewish community over the years, Topol has made audiences laugh and cry from the stages of Broadway and the West End.

“How many people are known for a game? How many people in my profession are known in the world? he told the AP. “I am not complaining.”

Still, Topol said he sometimes needed to look outside of theater to find meaning in his life. He devoted much of his later years to charity as chairman of the board of Jordan River Village, a camp serving children in the Middle East with life-threatening illnesses.

“I’m interested in charity work and find that more rewarding than running from one (acting) role to another,” he said. “When you’re successful in a film and the money is flowing, yes, obviously, it’s very nice. But to tell you that’s the most important thing, I’m not sure.

Topol is survived by his wife and three children.

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