Chaim Topol, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ actor, dies aged 87

(CNN) Chaim Topol, the actor best known for playing Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” has died in Israel after a “long illness,” his representative confirmed to CNN Thursday. He was 87.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid tribute to Topol on Thursday and offered his condolences, calling him a “multifaceted artist with great charisma and energy.”

“The story of Haim Topol’s life has been sealed, but I am sure that his contribution to Israeli culture will live on for generations,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “He loved the land of Israel dearly, and the people of Israel loved him in return.”

Born September 9, 1935 in Tel Aviv, Topol was known by his surname throughout his career.

He began his career as an actor after being assigned to the Entertainment Squad while doing military service in Israel. It was during the service that he also met his future wife, Galia Topol.

His acting saw him win many international film awards, including two Golden Globes: Most Promising Newcomer in 1965 for playing the title role of “Sallah Shabati” and Best Actor in a Motion Picture Comedy or Musical for “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1972.

He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as Tevye the milkman in 1971.

Other notable roles he played were Dr. Hans Zarkov in “Flash Gordon” (1980) and Milos Columbo with Roger Moore’s James Bond in “For Your Eyes Only” (1981).

Although Topol is recognized for his acclaimed role in a musical, music was like “organized noise” for the actor-singer, who said he could not play an instrument or read sheet music.

“I was actually deprived of music until I was 12,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 1983. “We didn’t have a radio in the house.”

Before his big screen foray as Tevye, Topol said he had temporarily filled the role on stage in Tel Aviv, and was later asked to play the role in London’s West End.

“They were very brave to let me have that part… Considering my English was so limited,” with a “vocabulary of 50 words,” he added. “I still don’t understand how they let me have the part.”

Eight years ago, Netanyahu awarded Topol the Israel Prize, considered the country’s most prestigious and highest form of honor in culture.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also released a statement on Twitter Thursday paying tribute to the late actor.

“From fiddler on the roof to the roof of the world, Haim Topol, who has passed away from us, was one of the most outstanding Israeli stage artists, a talented actor who conquered many stages in Israel and abroad, filled the cinema screens with his presence and above all penetrated deeply into our hearts.”

According to Herzog and Netanyahu, Topol was also involved in charity work with sick and disabled children.

“Topol was one of the giants of Israeli culture and he will be sorely missed,” Herzog tweeted.

Topol is survived by his wife and their three children.

CNN’s Richard Allen Greene contributed reporting.

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