Topol, the Israeli actor best known for playing Teffi, the emotional shtetl milkman in “Fiddler on the Roof,” a role he has performed thousands of times on stage and screen, has died. He was 87 years old.
His death was announced by President of Israel Isaac Herzog on Twitter on Thursday. Mr. Herzog did not give a time or cause of death.
Topol, born Chaim Topol, used only his surname throughout most of his career — gaining wide international fame as the star of the 1971 film version of “Fiddler.” Its director, Norman Jewison, chose Topol, then an unknown stage actor, over Zero Mostel, which He created the part on Broadway.
The movie, which earned Topol a nomination for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award, made him a star. For much of the late 20th century, it was, in the words of The Jerusalem Post in 2012, “Israel’s most popular export since the Jaffa orange.”
Topol has reprized Tevye in stage productions around the world for decades, including the 1990 Broadway revival for which he received a Tony nomination. By 2009, he had, by his own estimation, played the character more than 3,500 times, starting in his early 30s and ending when he was in his 70s.
Among his other film appearances was the title role in Joseph Losey’s “Galileo,” the 1975 adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s stage play. “Flash Gordon” (1980), in which he portrayed scientist Hans Zarkov; and the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981), starring Roger Moore, in which he played Greek smuggler Milos Columbo.
On television, he played Polish Jew Beryl Jastrow in the 1983 mini-series The Winds of War, reprising the role in the series’ sequel, War and Remembrance, which aired from 1988 to 1989.
But indisputably for Teffi—the weary, convention-bound man who argues with God, bemoans his fate as a poor father of five daughters and lives with growing restlessness amid the pogroms of Tsarist Russia in the early 20th century—Tobol remained better known. .
“Like Yul Brynner in The King and I” and Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady,” the United Press International news service said in 1989, “Topol has become almost synonymous with his character.”
A longer version of this obituary will appear soon.
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