Chaim Topol, a legendary Israeli actor, singer, and illustrator passed away at 89 on 8th March 2023. He was best known for his portrayal of Tevye, the lead role in the stage musical Fiddler on the Roof and the 1971 film adaptation, performing this role more than 3,500 times from 1967 through 2009.
He was a co-founder of the Haifa Theatre. His acting has even won him several coveted awards. The actor began acting during his service in the Israeli Army and later became a part of theatre groups, traveling across Israel and performing.
Chaim Topol’s Journey
Chain Topol was born on 9 September 1935, in Tel Aviv which is in what was then Mandatory Palestine (now Israel). His father was an immigrant from Russia and worked as a plasterer whereas, his mother was a seamstress.
Topol grew up with his parents and two younger sisters in the working-class neighborhood of Florentin. Initially, as a young child, Chaim wished to be a commercial artist.
However, his elementary school teacher, the writer Yemima Avidar-Tchernovitz, saw a theatrical side to him and encouraged him to act in school plays and read stories to the class.
He started working at the age of 14, as a printer at the Davar newspaper. He kept up with his high school education at night.
e graduated from high school at age 17 and moved to Kibbutz Geva. A year later, he enlisted in the Israeli army and became a member of the Nahal entertainment troupe, singing and acting in traveling shows. He rose in rank to troupe commander.
He was discharged from his military service on October 2, 1956, and soon after married Galia Finkelstein, a fellow Nahal troupe member. He was called in for reserved duty in Sinai Campaign merely two days after getting married (and twenty-three days after his discharge).
He kept performing there for the soldiers in the desert. After the war, he and his wife settled in Kibbutz Mishmar David, where Chaim worked as a garage mechanic. He assembled a kibbutz theatre company made up of friends from his Nahal troupe.
The theatre company was in existence from early 1957 to the mid-1960s.
From the 1960s, Topol started receiving opportunities in the film industry. His first film appearance was in the 1961 film I Like Mike, followed by the 1963 Israeli film El Dorado. His breakthrough role came as the lead character in the 1964 film Sallah Shabati.
He kept climbing up the success ladder and was well-celebrated across the world. Topol created a legacy that will forever be cherished and remembered. His role of Tevye forever immortal.
Chaim’s Demise and Cause of Death
Chaim led a successful career and a life of legacy. He is an icon who can never be erased. However, old age spares no one.
In June 2022, his son Omer shared that Chaim is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.
Topol’s family gave a further update on March 8, 2023, about his health. His family notified the press that he was near death and “living his final hours”, and asked the public to respect the family’s privacy.
He died “overnight”, at the age of 87. Before his burial at Kvutzat Shiller on March 10, a memorial was held at Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv, on March 9.
The Legacy of Topol
Chaim Topol inspired several lives. His work was honored not only by artists but also by his country’s government. On the news of his demise, President Isaac Herzog issued a statement honoring “one of the most prominent Israeli stage artists, a gifted actor who conquered many stages in Israel and overseas, filled the cinema screens with his presence and, above all, deeply entered our hearts.“
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated “his wide smile, warm voice, and unique sense of humor made him a folk hero who won the hearts of the people” and former prime minister Yair Lapid remarked, “He and his smile will continue to accompany Israeli culture, his rich legacy will forever remain a part of Israel“.
His prominent contribution even won him several awards and honors.
He won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and Topol won the 1964 Golden Gate Award for Best Actor at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the 1965 Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer—Male, alongside Harve Presnell and George Segal.
Sallah Shabati was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, losing to the Italian language Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
He was even honored with the Israel Prize in 2015, for his lifetime achievement.
Chaim Topol’s Philanthropic Deeds
Chaim, along with being an excellent artist, was also a philanthropist.
In 1967, Topol founded Variety Israel, an organization serving children with special needs. He was also a co-founder and chairman of the board of Jordan River Village, a year-round camp for Arab and Jewish children with life-threatening illnesses, which opened in 2012. It was inspired by Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
The legendary Israeli actor, Chaim Topol, passed away on March 8, 2023. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s and succumbed to age and his long illness.
His life is a portrayal of genuine hard work and artistry. He will forever be remembered for his irreplaceable contributions.
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