Chaim Topol, star of Fiddler on the Roof, dies aged 87

The actor, known for his stage and film portrayal of Tevye, has died in Tel Aviv

FILE - Israeli actor Chaim Topol speaks during an interview in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 8, 2015.  Chaim Topol, a leading Israeli actor who charmed generations of theatergoers and movie-watchers with his portrayal of Tevye, the long-suffering and charismatic milkman in “Fiddler on the Roof,” has died in Tel Aviv, Israeli leaders said Thursday, March 9, 2023.  He was 87.  (AP Photo / Ariel Schalit, File)
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Chaim Topol, an Israeli actor known for playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, has died in Tel Aviv. He was 87.

A cause of death was not immediately released.

Topol was the recipient of two Golden Globe awards, and nominee for both an Academy Award and a Tony Award. In 2015, he was recognised for his contributions to film and culture with the Israel Prize for his lifetime achievements. Up until a few years ago, he remained involved in theatre and said he still fielded requests to play Tevye.

Topol got his start in acting in a theatrical troupe in the Israeli army in the 1950s, where he met his future wife Galia. His breakthrough was the lead role in the 1964 Israeli film Sallah Shabati.

Two years later, he made his English-language film debut alongside Kirk Douglas in Cast a Giant Shadow. The role of his life arrived in the long-running musical Fiddler on the Roof, in which he played Tevye.

Chaim Topol in Fiddler on the Roof in 1971. Getty Images

After years of playing Tevye on stage in London and on Broadway, he was cast as the lead role in the 1971 Norman Jewison-directed film version, winning the Golden Globe award for lead actor and being nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. He lost out to Gene Hackman in The French Connection.

Topol played the part more than 3,500 times on stage, most recently in 2009. With the help of heavy make-up and costume work, he first portrayed the much older, burlier milkman in his 30s and quite literally aged into the role.

Topol starred in more than 30 other movies, including as the lead in Galileo, Dr Hans Zarkov in Flash Gordon and James Bond’s foil-turned-ally Milos Columbo in For Your Eyes Only alongside Roger Moore.

Yet Topol said he sometimes needed to look outside of acting to find meaning in his life. He devoted much of his later years to charity as chairman of the board of Jordan River Village, a camp serving children with life-threatening diseases.

“I am interested in charities and find it more fulfilling than running from one [acting] part to another,” he said. ”When you are successful in a film and the money flows, yes, obviously, it is very nice. But to tell you that is the most important thing, I am not sure.”

Topol is survived by his wife Galia and three children, Anat, Omer and Adi Topol.

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Updated: March 09, 2023, 8:30 AM