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Actor Abe Vigoda Of 'The Godfather,' 'Barney Miller,' Has Died

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Abe Vigoda has died, finally. We'll explain that in a moment.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Vigoda was born in 1921 in New York City, a character actor with distinctive sunken eyes, heavy brow and lantern jaw. He had a 20-year career in the theater before his big break in the 1972 film "The Godfather."

SIEGEL: Vigoda played Sal Tessio, a mob boss and Corleone family confidant.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GODFATHER")

ABE VIGODA: (As Sal Tessio) Barzini wants to arrange a meeting. He says we can straighten any of our problems out.

AL PACINO: (As Michael Corleone) You talked to him?

VIGODA: (As Sal Tessio) Yeah. I can arrange security on my territory.

CORNISH: From Tessio the gangster, Vigoda moved on to television to play Sergeant Fish, the cop in the hit comedy "Barney Miller." He was so popular on the show, he was given a spinoff called - yep - "Fish."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FISH")

FLORENCE STANLEY: (As Bernice Fish) I'm going to go to a psychiatrist.

VIGODA: (As Det. Phil Fish) Are you crazy?

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: "Fish" lasted a year, and then it seemed Abe Vigoda's career was done until he was pronounced dead in print.

CORNISH: A People Magazine article in 1982 referred to him as the late Abe Vigoda. The very-much-alive Vigoda placed an ad in Variety with him in a coffin holding a copy of People Magazine.

SIEGEL: From there, Abe Vigoda is dead became a running joke on late-night talk shows, including David Letterman.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN: Well, that's good.

VIGODA: On Sunday, I fly to Florida - Orlando, Fla. I do "Superboy." I'm a guest on that one - a new TV series.

LETTERMAN: So Abe, you're anything but dead.

VIGODA: Thank you, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: The Internet kept the joke going. Abevigoda.com was devoted to updating the actor's status, as was @AbeVigodaUpdate, a Twitter account.

SIEGEL: This morning, both said he was still alive. But as the news broke this afternoon, they finally confirmed Abe Vigoda is dead. He was 94 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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