Chaim Topol has died at the age of 87, Israel’s president has said. Topol was best known for his portrayal of Tevye in the 1971 musical Fiddler On The Roof.
Topol’s death was confirmed in a statement shared on Twitter by President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday, in which he paid tribute to Topol as “one of the giants of Israeli culture”. Herzog described Topol as “a gifted actor who conquered many stages in Israel and overseas, filled the cinema screens with his presence and above all entered deep into our hearts”.
He added that throughout his career, the actor had “represented us with great respect”.
Who was Chaim Topol?
Topol was an Israeli actor, singer and illustrator, best known for his portrayal of Teyve in both the stage show and 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof. He’s thought to have performed the role over 3,500 times between the late 1960s and 2009.
Topol’s acting career began to gain momentum after he was cast as the titular character in Israeli comedy Sallah Shabati, which earned him the Golden Globe award for most promising male newcomer.
In 1966, he made his first English-language screen appearance as Abou Ibn Kaqden in the big-budget Mickey Marcus biopic Cast a Giant Shadow.
He went on to star in a number of films, both in Israel and the US, including the 1975 adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo and 1980 sci-fi film Flash Gordon.
Topol scooped a second Golden Globe in 1971, this time for Best Actor, for Fiddler On The Roof. A 1991 Broadway revival of the show also saw Topol nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor.
In addition to acting, Topol also dedicated his time to charitable causes and founded Variety Israel – an organisation that provides support for children living with disabilities and their families.
Topol also served as the President of Jordan River Village, a free overnight camp for Israeli children living with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. In 2015 Topol was awarded the Israel Prize – the country’s most prestigious award – for lifetime achievement and special contribution to society and the state.
Topol married Galia Finkelstein in October 1956, and together the couple had three children - daughters Anat and Ady and son Omer.
Did he sing If I Were a Rich Man?
If I Were a Rich Man is a song from the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof, written by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Brock and performed by the main character Tevye, portrayed famously by Topol.
Topol recorded a version of the song in 1967 which entered into the UK Singles Chart of April that year, where it remained for 20 consecutive weeks, peaking at number nine.
When did he die?
Topol passed away on 8 March at the age of 87. That same day, his family had notified the press that he was “living his final hours” and asked the public to respect their privacy.
In the days leading up to his death, his son told Ynet that the actor had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago.
Omer Topol said that his father is an “amazing actor who developed all kinds of tactics to cover up the problems that began to arise”.
“When he won the Israel Prize, his Alzheimer’s was in its early stages,” Omer said, “He spoke wonderfully at the ceremony, and also at other events, and no one even felt it.”
In his statement regarding Topol’s passing, Herzog added that despite being highly decorated for his “talent and creation”, it was the people of Israel that had won “the most important award” by being able to enjoy his work.