Jewish Actor Abe Vigoda, Famous for Godfather Role, Dies at 94

To prepare himself for the role - a high-ranking mobster who runs a crew of his own - Vigoda frequented the Lower East Side and other NY neighborhoods that are backdrops in the story. Phil Fish on the sitcom "Barney Miller," (1974-1982) Vigoda spent most of the '70s and '80s as in an-demand character actor who could play a menacing killer one minute - and a creaky old-timer in need of a comfortable chair, the next.

Abe Vigoda passed away in his sleep Tuesday morning, his daughter Carol Vigoda Fuchs told the Associated Press.

Carol Vigoda Fuchs said her father died of natural causes. "He was not sick", she told Reuters.

"The Godfather" elevated Vigoda's career, but he became a household name in 1975 with "Barney Miller", the long-running ABC sitcom about a NY precinct house.

Born in Brooklyn in 1921, Vigoda started acting while still in his teens, working with the American Theatre Wing. Fish only lasted a season and a half, but Vigoda reprised the role in subsequent guest appearances on Barney Miller until 1981.

"So it does prove to me something: That if you don't make it in your youth, you can make it in your middle age or even old age", he said. "Somehow it mentioned in the article that 'the late Abe Vigoda" was not (there)", Vigoda told CNN in 2008.

Vigoda appeared via flashback sequences in "The Godfather, Part II". The actor then took out an ad in a trade publication that showed him holding a lily - a flower commonly displayed at funeral services - and a copy of People. In later interviews, most notably with Conan O'Brien and David Letterman, Vigoda would reminisce about the humorous error about his status on this mortal coil. So what happened to The Godfather and Barney Miller star?

"I got the role because the producer thought I looked exhausted", Vigoda said. In 1998 Vigoda played gangster Paul Castellano in the NBC telepic "Witness to the Mob".

The tall character actor with the characteristically slouched shoulders and hangdog face became something of a pop culture figure due to repeated false reports of his demise, which became the subject of jokes. His film credits include Joe Versus the Volcano, Sugar Hill and more curious features like Jury Duty and Good Burger, proving just how game Vigoda was to indulge even the silliest humor.

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