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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Topol, star of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ on the screen and the stage, dies at 87


Chaim Topol, known simply as Topol, in 1966. He won fame for playing Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” a role he performed more than 3,500 times onstage; he also appeared in a film version in 1971.

By Margalit Fox


Topol, the Israeli actor best known for playing Tevye, the soulful shtetl milkman at the center of “Fiddler on the Roof,” a role he performed thousands of times on stage and screen, has died. He was 87.


His death was announced by President Isaac Herzog of Israel on Twitter on Thursday. Herzog did not give a time or cause of death.


Topol — born Chaim Topol, he used only his surname throughout much of his professional life — came to wide international renown as the star of the 1971 film version of “Fiddler.” Its director, Norman Jewison, had chosen Topol, then a little-known stage actor, over Zero Mostel, who had created the part on Broadway.


The film, for which Topol earned an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award, made him a star. For much of the late 20th century he would be, in the words of The Jerusalem Post in 2012, “Israel’s most famous export since the Jaffa orange.”


Topol reprised Tevye in stage productions worldwide for decades, including a 1990 Broadway revival for which he received a Tony nomination. By 2009, he had, by his own estimate, played the character more than 3,500 times, beginning when he was in his early 30s and ending when he was well into his 70s.


His other film appearances include the title role in “Galileo,” director Joseph Losey’s 1975 adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s stage play; “Flash Gordon” (1980), in which he portrayed scientist Hans Zarkov; and the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only” (1981), starring Roger Moore, in which he played Greek smuggler Milos Columbo.


On television, he played the Polish Jew Berel Jastrow in the 1983 miniseries “The Winds of War,” reprising the role for its sequel, “War and Remembrance,” broadcast from 1988 to 1989.


But it was indisputably for Tevye — the weary, tradition-bound everyman who argues with God, bemoans his lot as the penurious father of five daughters and lives increasingly warily amid the pogroms of early-20th-century czarist Russia — that Topol remained best known.


“Like Yul Brynner in ‘The King and I’ and Rex Harrison in ‘My Fair Lady,’ Topol has become almost synonymous with his character,” United Press International said in 1989.

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