Abe Vigoda: A Look Back at the Beloved Star of "The Godfather" and TV's "Barney Miller"

Herbie J Pilato

Photo bymovies.com


From the gothic daytime soap opera Dark Shadows to the prime-time comedies of Barney Miller and Fish, actor Abe Vigoda, who died at 94 of natural causes in 2016, left an indelible mark in pop culture.

A Closer Look

Abe Vigoda was beloved for his most famous roles: Det. Fish on Barney Miller and its spin-off series, Fish, as well as the mobster Sal Tessio in The Godfather,

Vigoda was introduced to the big-screen mainstream audience in the 1972 feature film, The Godfather, when the then 51-year-old actor played Tessio, a longtime friend and associate of the Corleone family who’s killed when the Corleones find out he’s been working with a rival mob family.

According to IMDb.com, Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola hired Vigoda in the role of Tessio from an open casting call. He was selected from a pool of 500 unknown actors who auditioned for that role.

In 1975, Vigoda began playing Det. Phil Fish on the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning ABC sitcom Barney Miller. Fish was a cantankerous New York City detective whose advancing age had led to a lot of physical ailments, namely a persistent hemorrhoids issue that fed his grumpiness and made the squad’s bathroom one of his frequent hangouts.

The role earned Vigoda three Emmy nominations and led to a spin-off, Fish, in which an eventually-retired Fish and his wife Bernice (Florence Stanley) raised a group of foster children (including one played by a pre-Diff’rent Strokes Todd Bridges). The series ran for two seasons on ABC.

Vigoda was originally considered for the role of The Monster in Mel Brooks' 1974 feature film classic, Young Frankenstein, due to his physical stature and resemblance to Boris Karloff.

In the 1980s, a well-known magazine referred to Vigoda as "the late Abe Vigoda" in a story, leading to the belief by many that he was dead. Abe enjoyed some publicity from the premature death announcement, even posing for a photograph while sitting up in a casket.


Until the very end, Abe Vigoda was a true entertainer who will forever be remembered and cherished by countless fans around the world.

[Note: Certain facts and information in this article were resourced from various entertainment news and media outlets including Britannica.com, History.com, HollywoodReporter.com, IMDb.com, Yahoo! Entertainment, Variety.com, and Wikipedia.org.]

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 5

Published by

Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

More from Herbie J Pilato

Comments / 0