A Total Vigodal Eclipse: Remembering the great Abe Vigoda, a true marvel of science

By on January 26, 2016

About ten years ago, Conan O’Brien’s studio audience — and those watching at home — were able to witness a very rare, naturally-occuring event for the ages: A total Vigodal Eclipse.

According to Conan: “Every forty years or so… very rare… character actor Abe Vigoda, pictured here….crosses in front of one of our studios cameras — this camera right over here — and totally obscures the view of our show… It’s a true marvel of science…”

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Today, we remember Abe Vigoda after hearing of his death, age 94.

Vigoda — born February 24, 1921, in Brooklyn, NY — is remembered mostly for his dramatic roles, portraying Sal Tessio in the 1972 Francis Ford Coppola film The Godfather, a part he landed in an “open call” audition (for actors who did not have agents).

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He’s also being remembered for his memorable funny turn as Detective Sgt. Phil Fish on the ABC sitcom “Barney Miller,” a character known for his world-weary demeanor and persistent hemorrhoids. Vigoda played Fish from 1975 to 1977 and on its short-lived spinoff show “Fish,” which aired from February 1977 to June 1978 (also on ABC).

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After mistaken reports of his death in 1982 and 1987, Vigoda was the subject of several running gags as to whether he was dead or alive.

From Hit Fix:

“Vigoda was also famous for being misreported as dead. In 1982, People mistakenly referred to him as ‘the late Abe Vigoda.’ Vigoda, in turn, posed in a coffin for a funny photo shoot holding the erroneous magazine copy. In 1987, a TV reporter in Secaucus, New Jersey also called Vigoda ‘late.’ Since then, Vigoda mocked his strange press history in various appearances on David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s talk shows. Once he even got to scream at Letterman, ‘I’m not dead yet, you pinhead!'”

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In 2013, Conan wote the following about Abe Vigoda for this Vulture piece:

“I maintain to this day that some of the greatest interviews you’ll ever have in late-night television are with the second or even the third guest. And we had Abe Vigoda on as a guest because I loved television of the seventies. And there was this rumor that he was dead. So we had Abe Vigoda on, and he came out said, ‘I’m here to say one thing: I’m not dead.’ Everybody always assumed that he was dead, because he always looked old. He looked old in The Godfather — when he was 45, he looked old. And you could see right away that the audience loved him. So we said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. He’s fantastic, everyone knows who he is, he’s got that iconic face, and he’s great at deadpan.’ So we started using him for everything. At the last Late Night show, we shot something where I have to finally release him back into the wild. He couldn’t come with us to L.A. He’s in a cage, and I let him go, and I’m crying like a baby: ‘Run! Run! Just go, go!’ And he’s sort of hobbling over the hill in Central Park, and I’m just bawling like a baby. He’s still roaming the wild. He’s still out there.”

Fast-forward to 7:20 to see him play a brand new Star Wars character named Abe Vi-Yoda (h/t Hit Fix)

Vigoda was also thought of quite highly by late night host David Letterman:

R.I.P. Abe Vigoda… he’s still out there…and a total Vigodal eclipse is bound to happen again, so keep your eyes peeled.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.