Fiddler On The Roof Star Chaim Topol Has Died

Chaim Topol, known best for the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, has died at the age of 87.

By Britta DeVore | Updated

chaim topol

It’s a sad day for musical theater fans from around the world as Deadline reveals that one of the very best and most revered names in the business, Chaim Topol, has died at 87. The Israeli actor who was best known for appearing in the role of Tevye in the stage version of Fiddler on the Roof as well as the Norman Jewison-directed film adaptation passed away in Tel Aviv following a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Over the years, the Academy Award-nominated Topol would take on roles in the James Bond universe and the pulp comic adaptation Flash Gordon, but Fiddler on the Roof would always be the title most closely associated with his lengthy on-screen career.

Chaim Topol got his big break in the 1961 drama I Like Mike. While the actor had appeared in several smaller productions both on stage and screen, the Peter Frye-directed film would be the boost he needed to land his role in 1964’s Sallah Shabati, a classic piece of cinema that follows a Mizrahi immigrant family doing their best to survive in a transit camp. Topol nabbed the leading role in the project which would launch him to international stardom and would be a favorite at that year’s award circuit.

Sallah Shabati took home the coveted title of best foreign film at the Golden Globes and made history as Israel’s first chance at an Academy Award in the international film category. Celebrated for his performance in the feature, Chaim Topol was now known around the globe for his excellence in acting. And, his notoriety would soon pay off in the United States where he was cast in Melville Shavelson’s Cast a Giant Shadow.

A star-studded event, Chaim Topol would see his name next to the likes of John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra, and Angie Dickinson in the historical war-torn drama. Returning to his original love of stage productions, which is where he met his wife Galia before his on-film success, Topol reprised his long-running role as Tevye in the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof. Moving from the stages of Israel to those in England, the actor would appear as the character in over 3,500 productions.

chaim topol
(Left to right) Timothy Dalton, Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, and Chaim Topol in Flash Gordon (1980)

It was during one of these shows that Norman Jewison saw Chaim Topol’s performance and knew that he had to have him in the lineup for the film version. Famous for working with the likes of Nicolas Cage and Cher in Moonstruck and Denzel Washington in Hurricane, Jewison understood exactly how to craft the perfect cast and that’s exactly what he did for his 1971 adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof. A massive box office success and a hit with the critics, the title would nab a whopping eight Academy Awards and would see Topol mentioned in the Best Actor category. 

Continuing to make a name for himself, Chaim Topol followed up his Oscar nomination with an appearance as the titular scientist in 1975’s Galileo before getting adventurous in 1980’s Flash Gordon. He would even hop into the spy-filled world of James Bond in the 1981 Roger Moore-led feature For Your Eyes Only

Married for 67 years, Chaim Topol is survived by his wife, Galia, their three children, and several grandchildren. At this time we’re sending our condolences to his family as they grieve the loss of their beloved family member and film and theater legend.