Chaim Topol, the Israeli actor behind the iconic portrayal of Tevye in Fiddler On the Roof has died. He was 87.
Topol died in Tel Aviv, Israel, according to Israeli leaders. No cause of death was immediately given, but the actor had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago, his son confirmed to multiple outlets.
“From Fiddler on the Roof to the roof of the world, Haim Topol, who has passed away from us, was one of the most outstanding Israeli stage artists, a gifted actor who conquered many stages in Israel and overseas, filled the cinema screens with his presence and above all entered deep into our hearts,” Israel’s ceremonial president Isaac Herzog wrote on Twitter late Wednesday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also acknowledged the star’s death, saying that Topol’s “contribution to Israeli culture will continue to exist for generations.”
Topol — who went by his surname only for most of his career — won a Golden Globe for his role in the movie adaptation of Fiddler in 1972, and later graced stages around the world, including in London and on Broadway, as the beloved Russian milkman and patriarch.
The actor would go on to perform the role more than 3,500 times, according to Associated Press, and his embodiment of the character won him generations of fans.
“I wasn’t brought up in Hollywood. I was brought up in a kibbutz,” he told AP in 2015. “Sometimes I am surprised when I come to China or when I come to Tokyo or when I come to France or when I come wherever and the clerk at the immigration says ‘Topol, Topol, are you Topol?”
Topol’s career began in an acting troupe during his military service in Israel. He got his break in the 1964 hit film Sallah Shabati, for which he won his first Golden Globe. The movie was also the first film from Israel to receive an Academy Award nomination.
He later featured in movies including Cast a Giant Shadow (with Kirk Douglas), Galileo, Flash Gordon, and in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.
In 2015, the actor received the Israel Prize, his country’s highest cultural honor, The New York Times reported.
Yet he became synonymous with the character of Tevye — a role he said that he never tired of playing.
“Let’s face it, it’s one of the best parts ever written for a male actor in the musical theater,” he told The Boston Globe in 1989. “It takes you to a wide range of emotions, happiness to sadness, anger to love.”
Topol is survived by his wife, Galia, and their three children.