Chaim Topol, the Israeli actor known for his soulful portrayal of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, died in Tel Aviv at age 87, Israeli leaders confirmed on Thursday. An official cause of death was not provided. 

Multiple prominent Israeli figures paid tribute to Topol following the news. The nation’s ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, called the actor “one of the most outstanding Israeli stage artists” who “filled the cinema screens with his presence and above all entered deep into our hearts.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, “The scroll of Topol’s life has been signed, but I know with full confidence that his contribution to Israeli culture will continue to exist for generations.”

Born in Tel Aviv in 1935, Topol (who was known by just his surname for most of his professional life) is best known for bringing the role of Tevye to life in multiple iterations of the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof. He first played the role of the harried milkman and father of five daughters on stage in Tel Aviv, London, and Broadway productions throughout his thirties. Topol was then cast in the 1971 film version of the musical—instead of the perceived frontrunner for the part, Zero Mostel, who won a Tony for originating the role on Broadway. Topol’s legendary renditions of songs such as “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset” earned him an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe win.

Topol’s connection to the character seemed to defy time and space. He would play the role of Tevye some 3,500 times onstage, according to the Associated Press, from a Tony-nominated run in the 1990 revival to—most recently—a 2009 bow. 

Other film performances from Topol included 1980’s Flash Gordon and the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only starring Roger Moore. He also penned two books—1981’s Topol by Topol and 1994’s Topol’s Treasury of Jewish Humor, Wit, and Wisdom—and helped found Jordan River Village, a retreat for Middle Eastern children with life-threatening diseases. In 2015, Topol was honored with the Israeli Prize for lifetime achievement. 

Multiple actors remembered Topol on social media this week, including Tony winner Josh Gad, who wrote on Twitter: “There is no way to overstate how much this man & this performance meant to me. #Topol is a large reason why I became an actor. In fact, his performance of Tevye in ‘Fiddler’ was the very first performance I ever saw on a Broadway stage. RIP to a great.”

The Princess Bride’s Cary Elwes wrote: “What joys I experienced as a child watching him work & spending time with his family. He was truly larger than life. A great husband to his wife, Galia, and a great father to his children. My heart breaks for them.”


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