Abe Vigoda, the New York theatre and television actor who played Corleone family friend — and, ultimately, traitor — Sal Tessio in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” died Tuesday morning “of old age,” per the Associated Press. He was 94.
Vigoda’s appearances in 1972’s “The Godfather” and 1974’s “The Godfather Part II” secured his place in film history — “Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him,” he tells consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) after his plan to kill Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is discovered — but it was in television that the actor, with his average-Joe appearance and versatile skill set, worked for much of his career. As Det. Phil Fish in the long-running “Barney Miller” and a short-lived spinoff, “Fish,” he became a stalwart of 1970s TV, and appeared in many of the era’s most popular programs: “Kojack,” “The Bionic Woman,” “The Rockford Files,” “The Love Boat.”
Vigoda would later have guest spots in some of the best-known series of the 1990s, too (“MacGyver,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Law & Order,” “Wings,” “Mad About You”), in addition to playing Chief of the Waponis against Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in “Joe Versus the Volcano” — despite being erroneously reported dead on a number of occasions, including by People Magazine in 1982.
That’s some career.
Several critics and celebrities have posted their remembrances of Vigoda on Twitter:
Abe Vigoda is gone. He made me smile every time he walked into our studio and brightened our day. Thank you Abe for your grace and humor.
— Matt Lauer (@MLauer) January 26, 2016
I met Abe Vigoda at a urinal. He was so kind.
I told him I loved his work and he said, “right now?”
His portrayal of Sal Tessio! RIP sir.
— Dane Cook (@DaneCook) January 26, 2016
Abe Vigoda in The Godfather was younger than Brad Pitt is today. RIP to one of cinema’s great hangdogs (not Brad).
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) January 26, 2016
The main joke of Abe Vigoda’s character Fish on “Barney Miller” is that he seemed too old to still be alive. That was 42 years ago.
— Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall) January 26, 2016
RIP Abe Vigoda: brought characters to crusty life, had the good luck (& humor) to repeatedly attend his own funeral https://t.co/LqeII3e15b
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) January 26, 2016