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Theodore Bikel, Who Starred In Broadway's 'Fiddler On The Roof,' Dies

Jul 21, 2015
Originally published on July 21, 2015 4:23 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Last year, I emceed a 90th birthday tribute that Moment magazine organized for Theodore Bikel. At 90, the folk singer, actor, author, activist, this man who had been such a dynamic presence, was frail. He needed help getting up on stage, and then in front of the microphone. And then the mic went on, and magically, so did a lifetime of energy inside that 90-year-old body. He sang with the robust voice of a man half his age. Theo Bikel's spirit was as young and vital as anyone in the room. Last night, as NPR's Lynn Neary tells us, the body of that hugely talented man gave out.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Theodore Bikel was a big and burly man and had a voice that wrapped you in warmth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I WERE A RICH MAN")

THEODORE BIKEL: (Singing) If I were a rich man...

NEARY: Bikel was probably best known for playing Tevye in more than 2,000 performances of "Fiddler On The Roof." He was nominated for a Tony for the role of Captain Von Trapp in the original Broadway production of "The Sound Of Music," performing the last song Oscar Hammerstein ever wrote the lyrics for, "Edelweiss."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EDELWEISS")

BIKEL: (Singing) Edelweiss, Edelweiss, every morning you breathe me.

NEARY: Born in 1924 in Vienna, Bikel's family fled the Nazis and settled in what was then Palestine and later Israel. He became a U.S. citizen in 1961. Active in the civil rights movement, Bikel remained politically involved for the rest of his life. A folk singer as well as a Broadway star, Bikel helped launch the Newport Folk Festival, and folk music remained close to his heart even as he celebrated his 90th birthday last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I'M GONE")

BIKEL: (Singing) And you won't hear me singing any songs when I'm gone, so I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here.

NEARY: Singer and actor Theodore Bikel has died. He was 91 years old. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I'M GONE")

BIKEL: (Singing) My pen won't write another line when I'm gone, so I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.