In Memoriam: Theodore Meir Bikel (1924-2015)

Born Theodore Meir Bikel in May of 1924 in ViennaAustria, Bikel fled Austria following the Nazi occupation. He was raised in Palestine and acting at the Hebrew national theatre. In 1945, at the age of 21, he left Palestine to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.

In 1951, Bikel made his first film debut in The African Queen. In 1954, he immigrated to the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen seven years later. Bikel appeared in many popular television series including, “The Du Pont Show of the Month.” In 1958, Bikel was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as the Southern Sheriff in the film, The Defiant Ones.

Bikel was also a successful singer and performed in concerts around the world. A few of his popular albums include Israeli Folk Songs (1955) and Silent No More (1972).

Eventually, it was Bikel’s singing career which directed him to Broadway. In 1959, he performed in the original Broadway cast of The Sound of Music, where he played Captain Georg Von Trapp. Then in 1969, Bikel starred in the original run of Fiddler On the Roof, as Tevye. Since then, Bikel has performed the role of Tevye, more than any other actor. In 1959, Bikel co-founded, with Pete Seeger and George Wein, the Newport Folk Festival.

Among his many awards are the 1959 Academy Award nomination, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, an honorary doctorate from an American university, and two Viennese distinguished awards.

Bikel was married four times and had two children with Rita Weinberg. In 2013, he married journalist Aimee Ginsburg. Theo and Aimee called JHCLA when he was deciding whether palliative care was his next step. Rabbi Howard was honored to be able to sit with them and chant a niggun for healing in his larger- than- life presence. He passed away on July 21, 2015.

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