Singer, actor, activist Theodore Bikel dies at 91

Theodore Bikel in 2010

Theodore Bikel, an actor and folk singer who was recognized in 1997 with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, has died at 91.

Bikel, who won fame playing Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” doing more performances of the role than any other actor, died of natural causes on Tuesday morning at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to Hollywood Reporter.

Last November, Bikel spoke with WJW Arts Correspondent Lisa Traiger. That interview can be found here.

Born in Vienna, Bikel fled Austria at age 13 with his family after the 1938 Nazi Anschluss. The family settled in prestate Palestine, and in 1946 Bikel went to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatics Arts.

In his autobiography, according to Variety, he expressed regret about not returning to Israel to fight in the 1948 War of Independence: “A few of my contemporaries regarded what I did as a character flaw, if not a downright act of desertion. In me, there remains a small, still voice, that asks whether I can ever fully acquit myself in my own mind.”

Bikel moved to the United States in 1954 to appear on Broadway in “Tonight in Samarkand,” becoming a U.S. citizen in 1961. Also on Broadway, he played Captain Georg Von Trapp in the first Broadway production of “The Sound of Music.” During his career, Bikel appeared on stage, film and television in musicals, dramas and comedies.

In 1958 he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in “The Defiant Ones,” and in 1959 he co-founded the Newport Folk Festival with Pete Seeger and George Wein.

Tevye was not Bikel’s only Jewish role. In 2007 he was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for outstanding solo performance in “Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears.”

Many of Bikel’s 27 albums featured Hebrew and Yiddish folk music.

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