March 29, 2023

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Topol, star of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ on screen and stage, dies at 87

In June, with Israel fighting in the Six-Day War, he left the production to go home, where he entertained the soldiers. (He would make a similar decision in 1991, with the outbreak of the Gulf War, leaving the Broadway revival with his family in Tel Aviv.)

After seeing “The Fiddler” in London, Mr. Jewison made the unexpected decision to include Topol, still relatively unknown in the United States, in the motion picture.

“I wanted a third-generation European actor for the role, a third-generation guy who understood the background,” Mr. Jewison told The Globe in 1971. In Mr. Mostel and his unstoppable schtick.

Topol, who underwent two hours of make-up each day of filming—Mr. Jewison did his homework, contributing white hairs from his beard to be glued to his star’s dark eyebrows—in the eyes of many critics made Teffi the most convincing.

Reviewing the film in The New Yorker, Pauline Kael wrote about it:

“He is a rugged, masculine presence, physically strong and coarse, but also sensual and warm. He is a poor man but he is not a little man, he is a huge, disillusioned man – a man of Old Testament size brought down by circumstances of oppression.”

Topol was the author of two books, the memoir Topol from Topol (1981) and Topol’s Treasury of Jewish Humor, Wit, and Wisdom (1994).

His laurels include the Israel Prize, the country’s highest cultural honour, which he received in 2015. The recognition came both for his acting and his philanthropic work, in particular helping to found the Jordan River Village, a holiday camp in Israel for seriously ill children of all ages. ethnic and religious backgrounds. Modeled after Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut, it opened in 2011.

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Year after year, Topol has found the role he knows best to be a source of constant illumination.

“I did the Fiddler movie for a long time thinking this was a story about Jewish people,” he said in a 2009 interview. “But now I’ve been performing all over the world. And the cool thing is wherever I’m — India, Japan, England, Greece, Egypt — people come up to me after a show and say, ‘This is our story, too.'”