Actor Abe Vigoda, whose death had been erroneously reported three decades earlier, has died at age 94.
Novelist Mark Twain was on a speaking tour in London in May, 1897, when a rumor about his failing health began circulating. The rumor evolved into one of Twain’s passing. When a reporter contacted Twain for a comment about the report, Twain wrote that a cousin of his had been seriously ill but had recovered, and stated the rumors of his own demise grew out of the cousin’s illness. Twain ended the note with a now-famous line:
The report of my death was an exaggeration.
Fast forward to 1982.
Actor Abe Vigoda, known for his roles as Sal in The Godfather and Fish in the ABC comedy Barney Miller, was the victim of exactly this type of exaggeration, when People magazine referred to him as “the late” Abe Vigoda.
Five years later, a newspaper again reported on the actor’s passing.
Vigoda was in on the joke, appearing on David Letterman’s talk show and other comedy events in which his presumed death was always a gag.
In 1997, during a shopping trip in a Manhattan Bloomingdale’s he said a salesman remarked, “You look like Abe Vigoda. But you can’t be Abe Vigoda because he’s dead.”
The peculiar preoccupation with the actor’s mortality led to the creation of a website, IsAbeVigodaDead.com.
Now, for the first time, the site displays a new answer:
That simple response is accompanied by the actor’s birth and death dates.
The Daily Beast points out that when news of Vigoda’s death — passed along from his daughter — started popping up on sites from TMZ to The New York Times, people found it difficult to believe. I’ll admit it: when I saw the story come down in my newsroom yesterday afternoon, even I was hesitant to post it.
He had appeared on television in the 1950s, long before his true success came. This prompted him to reflect on his life and late stardom in this way:
When I was a young man, I was told success had to come in my youth. I found this to be a myth. My experiences have taught me that if you deeply believe in what you are doing, success can come at any age.
A valuable lesson for anyone to leave behind.
My favorite appearance came during a Super Bowl ad with Betty White for Snickers:
RIP Mr. Vigoda. Thanks for the memories.