Fiddler on the Roof actor Chaim Topol dies at 87

(CNN) Chaim Topol, the actor best known for playing Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, died in Israel after a “long illness”, his rep confirmed to CNN on Thursday. He was 87 years old.

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid tribute to Topol and conveyed his condolences, calling him “a multi-faceted artist with a lot of charisma and energy.”

“Haim Topol’s life story is sealed but I am certain that his contribution to Israeli culture will live on for generations,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “He loved the land of Israel very much, and the people of Israel loved him back.”

Born September 9, 1935 in Tel Aviv, Topol was known by his last name throughout his career.

He started his acting career after being assigned to the entertainment troupe while doing his military service in Israel. It was during his service that he also met his future wife, Galia Topol.

His acting has earned him numerous international film awards, including two Golden Globes: Most Promising Newcomer in 1965 for starring in the title role “Sallah Shabati” and Best Actor in a Motion Picture or Musical for “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1972.

He was also nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Tevye the Milkman in 1971.

Other notable roles he played were Dr. Hans Zarkov in “Flash Gordon” (1980) and Milos Columbo alongside Roger Moore’s James Bond in “For Your Eyes Only” (1981).

Although Topol is recognized for his acclaimed role in a musical, the music was like “organized noise” to the actor-singer, who said he couldn’t play an instrument or read music.

“I was actually deprived of music until I was 12,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 1983. “We didn’t have a radio at home. .”

Prior to the big-screen foray as Tevye, Topol said he temporarily performed the role on stage in Tel Aviv, and was later invited to play the role in London’s West End.

“They were very brave to leave that part to me…considering my English was so limited”, with a “vocabulary of 50 words”, he added. “I still don’t understand how they let me have the part.”

Eight years ago, Netanyahu presented Topol with the Israel Prize, considered the country’s most prestigious and highest form of cultural honor.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also posted a statement on Twitter Thursday, paying tribute to the late actor.

“From fiddler on the roof to roof of the world, Haim Topol, who passed away, was one of Israel’s most outstanding stage performers, a gifted actor who conquered many stages in Israel and abroad, said filled cinema screens with his presence and above all penetrated to the depths of our hearts.”

According to Herzog and Netanyahu, Topol was also involved in charity work with sick and disabled children.

“Topol was one of the giants of Israeli culture and he will be sorely missed,” Herzog tweeted.

Topol is survived by his wife and three children.

CNN’s Richard Allen Greene contributed reporting.

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