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Beverly Hills News – Theodore Bikel, Broadway’s Tevye, is Dead at 91

Posted: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 – 12:46 PM

Theodore Bikel, who defined the role of Tevye in more than 2,000 Broadway performances of “Fiddler on the Roof” and originated the role of Capt. Georg von Trapp in the stage production of “The Sound of Music,” died today at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center at age 91.

Publicist Harlan Boll told City News Service that Bikel had been having various health issues of late, “but nothing specific.” He had been in out and out of the hospital in recent weeks, he said.

Born May 2, 1924, in Vienna, Bikel fled Austria in 1938, the year it was invaded by Germany, for Palestine.

Bikel began his career as an actor in 1942 as an apprentice at the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv. He co-founded the Israeli Chamber Theater before leaving in 1946 to study at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

His early stage roles in London’s West End included “Streetcar Named Desire” with Vivian Leigh, directed by Laurence Olivier, and Peter Ustinov’s “The Love of Four Colonels.”

Bikel received Tony nominations in 1958, as best featured actor in a play for “The Rope Dancers,” and in 1960 for best featured actor in a musical for “The Sound of Music.”

Bikel received his first screen credit as the first officer in the 1951 Humphrey Bogart-Katharine Hepburn film classic, “The African Queen.”

Bikel received a best supporting actor Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a Southern sheriff who pursues escaped convicts played by Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in the 1958 drama “The Defiant Ones.”

“While Tevye is extremely close to where I’m from, a Southern sheriff is extremely remote from where I am,” Bikel told City News Service in 2005, prior to receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “When (director) Stanley Kramer offered me the role, I said, ‘Why are you offering me this? I’m not a southerner. I wasn’t even born here.

“He said — and I’ve never forgotten it — ‘A good actor is a good actor is a good actor.”‘

As a musician and singer, Bikel has recorded albums in a variety of genres, was a founder of the Newport Folk Festival and maintains an extensive concert schedule.

“Quite frankly, if I had to wait for movie roles to make a living, I’d be a little worse off, but because I have the music, I’m not dependent on anything,” Bikel said.

Bikel was active in the civil rights movement for many years, a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 to the National Council on the Arts, and president of the Actors Equity Association, the union representing the nation’s stage actors and stage managers, from 1973-82.

He is survived by his wife, Amy Ginsburg-Bikel, Boll said.

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