‘Fiddler on the Roof’ Tevye, Israeli actor and singer Chaim Topol dies at 87

Israeli actor and singer Chaim Topol, best known for his role as Tevye the Dairyman in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, has died in Israel at age 87. According to Israeli media, the artist died in his Tel Aviv home on Wednesday. Mononymously know simply as Topol, the actor won worldwide fame for his performance in the 1971 film adaptation of the Broadway musical which was based on the tales by Russian-born Yiddish-language author Sholem Aleichem.

“My wife and I, and all the citizens of Israel, with deep pain are parting from our dear Chaim Topol - loved by the audience and one of the great artists of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

Israel's President Isaac Herzog recalled Topol as a “gifted actor who conquered many stages in Israel and overseas, filled the cinema screens with his presence and especially entered deep into our hearts.” Topol was born in Tel Aviv on September 9, 1935, and founded a comedy troupe after completing military service as a member of an entertainment troupe called Nahal.

His first on-screen role was in “I Like Mike” in 1961, and it was his part in the Israeli comedy film Sallah Shabbati in 1964 which won him his first Golden Globe, for most promising male newcomer.

His performance as Tevye won him his second Golden Globe, this time for Best Actor in a Film Comedy or Musical, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Topol initially had rejected the leading role in an earlier staged production of “Fiddler on the Roof”, thinking it would not resonate with Israeli audiences, according the Israeli National Library archives.

But the show's setting and storyline in a Jewish community in Imperial Russia gave it a resonance far beyond its catchy musical numbers and striking staging.

Topol, who eventually changed his mind and was chosen above the likes of Walter Matthau and Danny Kaye for the film role, grew to embody the character of Tevye clinging to his traditional roots as the world exploded around him. Other film roles, including the slightly mad scientist Dr Hans Zarkov in “Flash Gordon” and smuggler Milos Columbo in the James Bond outing “For Your Eyes Only” won him cult fans.

But for most people, he was forever the bearded father figure, blasting out “Tradition!” while watching his daughters heading out to make their own life choices.

Chaim Topol passed away on Wednesday in his home in Tel Aviv at the age of 87. He is survived by his wife, Galia Finkelstein, whom he met when both performing in the army entertainment unit, and also by his son and two daughters.