The great character actor—perhaps most famous for his turn as the stone-faced, back-stabbing gangster Salvatore Tessio in the Godfather movies—lived to the ripe old age of 94, long enough to read about his own demise not once but twice. There were mistaken press reports of his death in 1982 and 1987, and the subject became a running joke among his friends. Vigoda liked to hang out at the Friar’s Club, the redoubt of New York comedians, where his fellow jesters would often tease him. “Abe, was the ground cold when you got up this morning?” the comedian Stewie Stone asked during a Friar’s Club party in 2011.
Vigoda was already in 90 when he attended that party, and had already lived through several lifetimes worth of acting careers. He started on Broadway, where he starred in such challenging works as Marat/Sade (1967), and in film he brought dignity and gravitas to one of the peak achievements of American cinema, the Godfather films. But he was also a fixture on the sit-com Barney Miller (1975-1977), where he played the gruff, weathered Sergeant Phil Fish, a role that was spun off into its own series Fish in 1977 and 1978.
Vigoda had a great exit scene in The Godfather, where Tessio realizes that the mob boss Michael Corleone has ordered him to be killed. Even as he begs his old gangster friend Tom Hagen for mercy, Tessio maintains a stoic poise, befitting a man familiar with death. RIP, Abe Vigoda.