Fiddler on the Roof Star Theodore Bikel Dies at 91

Bikel originated the role of Captain von Trapp on Broadway in ”The Sound of Music”.

Tony-nominated actor and folk singer Theodore Bikel has died at 91.
Tony-nominated actor and folk singer Theodore Bikel has died at 91.

Oscar- and two-time Tony-nominated actor and folk singer Theodore Bikel died Tuesday morning in Los Angeles at the age of 91.

Born in Vienna, Austria on May 2 1924, Bikel was born into a family of active Zionists. He moved to London in 1945 to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, leaving Palestine where he fled with his family in 1938 following the German union with Austria. In 1948, while in London, Michael Redgrave recommended Bikel to his friend Laurence Olivier as understudy for the parts of both Stanley Kowalski and Mitch in the West End premiere of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. He eventually graduated from understudy to star opposite the director's wife, Vivien Leigh, who reprised her performance as Blanche DuBois in the film version opposite Marlon Brando.

He came to the United States in 1954 (becoming a naturalized citizen in 1961) and made his Broadway debut in 1955 in Tonight in Samarkand, followed by a starring role in The Lark that same year. Bikel earned his first Tony nomination in 1958 for his featured performance in The Rope Dancers, and in 1959, landed the role of Captain Georg von Trapp in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music opposite Mary Martin. The performance earned him his second Tony nomination in 1960. His Broadway credits also include Cafe Crown, Pousse-Café, and The Inspector General (his final Broadway role in 1978).

In 1964, he played Zoltan Karpathy, the dialect expert, in the film version of My Fair Lady. He made his first (soon-to-be-iconic) onstage appearance as Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof in 1967 and went on to perform the role over 2,000 times, more than any other actor. His last run as Tevye came in 2010 when he subbed in for an injured Topol during the North American tour.

In the 1950s, Bikel produced several albums of Jewish folk songs, as well as Songs of a Russian Gypsy, in 1958. He cofounded the Newport Folk Festival alongside Pete Seeger, Oscar Brand, and George Wein in 1959, and in 1962, had the honor of becoming the first singer besides Bob Dylan to perform "Blowin' in the Wind" in public.

In film, Bikel got his start in two John Huston films, The African Queen and Moulin Rouge. He went on to earn a 1959 Academy Award nomination in for his role in Flucht in Ketten (The Defiant Ones).

To television audiences, Bikel became well known for his 1990 appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation as the Russian adopted father of the Klingon Worf. His additional TV credits include guest appearances on the 1954 NBC legal drama Justice, as well as on The Twilight Zone, Appointment with Adventure, Wagon Train, Hawaii Five-O, Columbo, Charlie's Angels, The San Pedro Beach Bums, Cannon, Little House on the Prairie, Mission: Impossible, Gunsmoke, Dynasty, All in the Family, Knight Rider, Babylon 5, Murder She Wrote, and Law & Order''.

Bikel cofounded the Actors Federal Credit Union in 1962 and served as president of Actors' Equity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, supporting human rights. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to serve a six-year term on the National Council for the Arts. Bikel has also been president of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America since 1988.

Married four times throughout his life, Bikel is survived by two children (whom he shared with his second wife, Rita Weinberg Call), as well as his current wife, Aimee Ginsburg, whom he married in 2013.