It was a People magazine article in 1982 that started it. Then a star of Barney Miller, it was reported by a magazine writer that “the late Abe Vigoda’ was not present at the show’s wrap party. 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. It became a long-running internet joke, with websites dedicated to updating the world on his status.
Today, that status changed.
According to an Associated Press report, the beloved character actor died in his sleep on Tuesday at the age of 94. The news was confirmed by his daughter Carol Vigoda Fuchs, who said that his cause of death was old age.
Life’s tragic irony is that Vigoda outlived the People magazine writer who mistakenly reported his death in 1982. In the years following the report, Vigoda always took it in good humor.
While Vigoda will long be remembered for the misreporting of his death, he will also be forever remembered as Det. Phil Fish on Barney Miller. He was Lieutenant Sal Tessio in The Godfather. He starred alongside Kenan and Kel in Good Burger and even showed up randomly at a Phish concert in 2013.
Vigoda will be remembered for playing a number of unsavory characters, but it was clear that he was a vivacious, good-natured man even into his later years. We shouldn’t remember him for the long-running joke about his death or the many songs that were made in honor of his fake death. He should be remembered for his expressive eyebrows and his long, fruitful career that began in 1949 and continued until 2014. Vigoda was only ever nominated for 3 Emmy Awards, winning none, but he was an ever-present figure on our television sets.
He should be remembered for his appearances in Joe vs the Volcano and Look Who’s Talking. He was always around, always having a good time, even when he was playing a weirdo. Rest in Peace, Abe Vigoda. Your death might have been the punchline to a three-decade long joke about mortality, but your life and work are something we’ll seriously remember.