Theodore Bikel, Broadway star, dies at 91

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Written by Lauren Markoe

For countless theatergoers, Theodore Bikel was synonymous with Tevye, the loving Jewish father from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Bikel, 91, whose family fled Austria for Palestine after the Anschluss, died in Los Angeles on Tuesday (July 21) after a career on stage, screen and in folk music.

He trained as an actor in London and became famous for many non-Jewish roles, including Captain von Trapp in the Broadway production of “The Sound of Music.” But he is perhaps most famous for playing Tevye, the exuberant father and dairyman in “Fiddler” who sings of his love of Jewish learning and grapples with the loss of a daughter to a Christian husband. From 1967 to 2010, Bikel played Teyve on stage more than 2,000 times.

A co-founder of the Newport Folk Festival, Bikel produced several albums of folk music, including Jewish folk music.

Named for Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, he lamented in later years that he did not return to his adopted homeland to fight for Israeli independence in 1948.

He served as chairman of the board of Meretz, a progressive Israeli political party now known as Partners for Progressive Israel, that supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the U.S., he put his left-leaning political proclivities to work as an activist against the Vietnam War and a delegate for Eugene McCarthy at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Bikel celebrated his 90th birthday last year with a concert featuring English and Yiddish folk tunes — many of which he sang himself — and remembrances of his activism on behalf of racial equality.