Who does not know the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”? Many of us remember several of is songs and dances. Brother Marcus also danced on the stage version.
The Israeli actor, singer, and illustrator Chaim Topol, also spelled Haym Topol, was, by far, best known for his embodiment of Tevye the Dairyman in “Fiddler on the Roof,” first in the Israeli and London stagings and then in the 1971 movie that brought the musical about poor shtetl Jews to the masses.
Topol died Thursday in Tel Aviv at 87, a day after his family announced that he was near death. Since 2022 he had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
Born in 1935 in Tel Aviv, Topol served in the Israel Defense Forces entertainment unit before embarking on a career on stage and screen that took him around the world. In 1967, he appeared as the lead character in London’s staging of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which had been a breakout hit on Broadway three years before. In his early 30s at the time, he wowed audiences and critics with his portrayal of an older character.
In one sign of Topol’s breakout moment, his recording of “If I Were a Rich Man” hit No. 9 on the British charts — besting Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in July 1967.
Topol was cast in the film production of the musical, beating out Zero Mostel — who put an indelible stamp on Tevye as the star of the original Broadway production — as well as a host of Jewish and non-Jewish movie stars. Using only his last name — purportedly because his first name was easily mispronounced by non-Hebrew speakers — he ultimately starred in more than 30 films in both English and Hebrew, published two books and released multiple albums.
Topol was a founder of Variety Israel, an organization serving children with special needs, and Jordan River Village, a year-round camp for Arab and Jewish children with life-threatening illnesses, for which he served as chairman of the board. In 2015 he was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.
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