Actor and musician Theodore Bikel, whose talents landed him memorable roles on the stage and screen, has died at age 91. His manager Robert Malcolm confirmed the news to NPR’s Neda Ulaby, who says Bikel “died last night at a hospital in Los Angeles after a long illness.”
Some of Bikel’s most notable work took place on stage — starting with an early breakthrough in the London staging of A Streetcar Named Desire, in which he starred opposite Vivien Leigh.
In 1959, the Austrian-born Bikel became the first actor to play Captain von Trapp, starring on Broadway in The Sound of Music.
And when Bikel played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in 1967, it was the beginning of an enduring relationship. He went on to play the role more than 2,000 times over more than 40 years.
Bikel’s first film role was 1951’s The African Queen; he earned an Oscar nomination as a supporting actor for playing a sheriff in 1958’s The Defiant Ones. He also had a memorable role in the 1964 film My Fair Lady, as professor Zoltan Karpathy, the speech expert.
Along the way, Bikel also released a string of albums, many of which featured him performing Jewish folks songs on guitar and a wide range of other instruments.
Bikel also played a string of military officers, from a German U-boat officer in The Enemy Below (1957) to a submarine captain in the 1966 spoof The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.
A vocal advocate for better working conditions and financial stability for actors, Bikel was the president of Actors’ Equity for nearly a decade, from 1973 to 1982.