RIP Abe Vigoda: It wasn't only business; it was a pleasure
"Can you get me off the hook, God? For old times' sake?"
Abe Vigoda's fans can imagine the late actor trying to talk his way out of dying, the way he tried making Tom Hagen call off his character's execution in The Godfather.
Mr. Vigoda couldn't dodge that cinematic fate, or a mortal one. The character actor with a dourly distinct face and grumble died Tuesday at age 94, at his daughter's New Jersey home.
Fans can also be excused if they don't believe that to be true. Mr. Vigoda's death was erroneously reported in a People magazine article in 1992, prompting a correction and the start of a 23-year running joke.
Various social media sites through the years were devoted to his longevity, by proclaiming in various shades of humor and respect that Mr. Vigoda was still alive. Sun-Sentinel courts reporter Rafael Almeda ran several Vigoda-themed sites.
"I hope he knew about our tribute, and I hope he was amused by it. Our intent was always to bring a smile by pointing to his longevity, which was an inspiration," Olmeda told CNN.com. His Twitter account, @AbeVigodaFacts announced Tuesday night: "I'd like to quote Mel Blanc but I can't because I just died. Ah hell... 'That's all, folks.'"
Mr. Vigoda turned People's mistake into late-life celebrity, making frequent appearances on David Letterman and Conan O'Brien's late night shows, and the Today show, where he was welcomed as what Matt Lauer will look like in old age.
Aging jokes came often for Mr. Vigoda, and early.
"When I was in first grade in New York, a teacher came into the room and told us she was casting a play titled Candlelight," Mr. Vigoda told the then-St. Petersburg Times in 1996. "She said she needed someone to play a 50-year-old baron who finds his wife in the closet with a strange man.
"She asked if any of us would like to audition, and about 30 of us raised our hands," he continued. "But she looked at me and said, "I think you'll do because you look old.'
As an actor, Mr. Vigoda is credited with 94 film, television and video game/cartoon roles. He only needed two, in order to be remembered: the Corleone family's trusted Salvatore Tessio in The Godfather, Parts I and II, and Det. Phil Fish, in the 1970's sitcoms Barney Miller and Fish. Mr. Vigoda was nominated for three Emmys in the former series, the only award chances he ever received, according to the Internet Movie Database.
Some career achievements, however, aren't measured by shiny prizes. By all accounts Mr. Vigoda was a kind man, a solid professional, with an irresistable sense of humor about himself. He wasn't a star in his movies and television appearances; he was a force of good nature. You can do much worse by celebrity reputations.