Back when he was on NBC, Conan O’Brien would invite Abe Vigoda on Late Night just to prove that the former Barney Miller star was still alive. On Tuesday night’s Conan, the host paid tribute to the actor, who finally passed away–after all those premature rumours–at the age of 94.
The above clip shows several of Vigoda’s memorable Conan appearances, including a spoof of his scene opposite Robert Duvall, a complete “Vigodal Eclipse” plus the annual “Lighting the Vigoda.”
Even before O’Brien saw Vigoda as comedy gold, David Letterman mined laughs with the Brooklyn-born actor. Here’s Vigoda’s “Network Time Filler” appearance on Letterman from 1988:
Soon Letterman will probably have to declare he’s not dead–such is the fate of stars who step out of the limelight.
How did the rumours get started that Vigoda was dead? First of all, look at the guy. Second, there was an erroneous report in People magazine in 1982 that the former star of Fish and “The Godfather” was sleeping witrh the fishes. In 1987, a reporter at a Secaucus, N.J., station referred to him as “the late Abe Vigoda.”
“Of these five celebrities, which one is not dead?” was a question once on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The answer, of course, was Abe Vigoda. He was immortalized in a song by The Beastie Boys and was the subject of countless dead pool web sites.
Vigoda was always a good sport about not being dead. He even posed for a retraction photo in People, sitting up in a coffin, reading the magazine report.
He never stopped working, with TV credits dating all the way back to 1949 with an appearance on Studio One. He even traveled to Toronto to shoot an episode of The Littlest Hobo in 1979. A 2008 Super Bowl Snickers ad, with Betty White, won a “Best Ad” fan poll at the time; both Vigoda and White were 88.
In 1999, Vigoda had a real life brush with death when a commercial airliner he was traveling on burst a compressed air line, causing cabin pressure to drop and oxygen masks to be deployed. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing. Vigoda and others were slightly injured but he enjoyed another 17 years of not being dead.