Israeli actor Chaim Topol, who gained international fame for his portrayal of Tevye in the stage and cinematic versions of the “Fiddler on the Roof,” died on March 9 in Tel Aviv after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 87 years old.
Topol was best known for his depiction of the central character in Shalom Aleichem’s musical, and then later in the 1971 film adaptation.
The actor was born in Tel Aviv in 1935 and began his career in the army’s entertainment troupe. He later toured Israel with various theatrical companies and eventually co-founded the Haifa Theater.
His breakthrough film role came in 1964 as the title character in “Sallah Shabati,” written by Israeli Ephraim Kishon. The comedy documented the chaos of Israeli immigration and settlement in the early years of the Jewish state.
Topol won a Golden Globe for the most promising newcomer, and the film became Israel’s first-ever nomination for an Oscar in the international film category.
Topol went on to appear in more than 30 films in Israel and the United States, including a role in the 1981 James Bond installment “For Your Eyes Only.”
He also won a Golden Globe for the portrayal of Tevye in the feature film “Fiddler on the Roof” and was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Actor Category for the role.
He appeared as Tevye onstage in more than 3,500 performances across the globe.
“My wife Sara and I, like all Israeli citizens, with deep sorrow, are saying farewell to our dear and beloved Chaim Topol, who was one of the State of Israel’s greatest artists,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.
“He greatly loved the land of Israel, and the people of Israel loved him in return. … Thanks to his broad smile, warm voice and unique sense of humor, he was a popular figure who conquered the heart of the people,” continued Netanyahu.
“Topol had a huge heart. He fervently supported the justice of Israel’s path and enthusiastically believed in the Zionist vision. … Sadly, the fiddler on the roof is no longer with us. The strings of the fiddle have fallen silent. The story of Chaim Topol’s life has been sealed, but I am certain that his contribution to Israeli culture will live on for generations,” he concluded.
Later in life, Topol devoted himself to philanthropy, serving as president of the Jordan River Village, a year-round camp in Israel’s lower Galilee for children with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
Topol also founded the Variety Israel nonprofit, which provides services to children with special needs.
In 2015, he was awarded the Israel Prize, widely considered the Jewish state’s highest honor.