Abe Vigoda
Actor Abe Vigoda  was wrongly reported in 1980 to have died when he was 60 years oldREUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Actor Abe Vigoda, best known for his roles in the TV series Barney Miller and Francis Ford Coppolla's movie The Godfather, died on 26 January at the age of 94. Vigoda was ailing and had discontinued his medication. He was in hospice care and died in his sleep at his daughter Carol Vigoda Fuchs' Woodland Park home in New Jersey.

The son of Jewish immigrants living in Brooklyn, he started his acting career in his teens, on the American stage. Vigoda later went on to take up his best-known role as Salvador "Sal" Tessio, an elder mobster in The Godfather (1972). He reprised the role in The Godfather II.

In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2009, Vigoda spoke about his role as Tessio. "I'm really not a Mafia person. I'm an actor who spent his life in the theatre. But Francis said, 'I want to look at the Mafia not as thugs and gangsters but like royalty in Rome.' And he saw something in me that fit Tessio as one would look at the classics in Rome," he recollected.

On TV, the actor played Detective Phil Fish in the sitcom Barney Miller which resulted in a spin-off show Fish, which looked into the detective's personal life.

Barney: I think of you as experienced. In an emergency, you would be the first one that I'd call.

Fish: You should call me first. I need time to put my teeth in.

— Barney Miller, Season 1

Almost parallel to his fame as an actor, is Vigoda's popularity as a "late" celebrity. He was mentioned as being dead in a story by People magazine in 1980. At the time, he was 60 years old and working on a play in Calgary.

Talking it with good humour, the Good Burger star went on to pose for a photo shoot with Variety in which he sat in a coffin. In 1987, once again, a reporter with television station WWOR, Channel 9 in Secaucus, New Jersey, referred to him as the "late Abe Vigoda".

Since then, his mistaken death reports have become a running joke in the industry. At a roast of Rob Reiner at the Friars Club which Vigoda frequented, actor Billy Crystal said, "I have nothing to say about Abe. I was taught to speak well of the dead."

In another roast at the club, this time of television star Drew Carey, comedian Jeff Ross joked, "My one regret is that Abe Vigoda isn't alive to see this."

Vigoda was married twice and is survived by a daughter from his first marriage, two grandchildren and a great-grandson. Celebrities took to Twitter to remember the late actor and his contribution to the world of entertainment.