Abe Vigoda, who played mafioso Sal Tessio in The Godfather, detective Phil Fish on the 1970s sitcom Barney Miller, and had a theater and TV career spanning more than six decades, died today at age 94.
Vigoda remained a highly recognizable figure long after his biggest roles were behind him, due not only to his distinctively dour visage—the long face, the hunched posture, the sad, sunken eyes (so distinctive that ABC News even opted to give him the epithet “sunken-eyed charactor actor” in the headline of their obituary)—but to the way his name somehow became an ongoing cultural joke. The latter was spurred by a decades-long cultural tradition—a meme before the era of memes—of speculating that Vigoda had, in fact, died. (There is even a website devoted to noting his vital status.) Armed with a self-aware sense of humor, Vigoda took the rumors and hoaxes in stride, even parlaying them into numerous appearances in commercials and on TV.