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Actor Topol, who appeared in 'Fiddler on the Roof' hundreds of times, has died

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Topol, the Israeli actor who starred in the film "Fiddler On The Roof," has died. He was 87 years old. Israel's president announced Topol's passing on Twitter last night. Jeff Lunden has this appreciation.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: When the film version of "Fiddler On The Roof" was released in 1971, it starred a relatively obscure actor with a single name, Topol, as Tevye the dairyman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF")

TOPOL: (As Tevye) Oh, dear Lord, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, it's no shame to be poor. But it's no great honor, either.

LUNDEN: It was the role of a lifetime.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF")

TOPOL: (As Tevye, singing) If I were a rich man, (vocalizing), all day long, I'd (vocalizing) if I were a wealthy man.

LUNDEN: Born Chaim Topol in Tel Aviv in what was then called Palestine, he trained to be a commercial artist but found his calling as a stage actor, co-founding the Haifa Municipal Theatre, where he played Shakespeare in Hebrew. But when he was cast in an Israeli production of "Fiddler," it led to him playing the father of five daughters in London when he was just 30. That's where film director Norman Jewison saw him, and the rest is history.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF")

TOPOL: (As Tevye, singing) Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play?

LUNDEN: While Topol acted in many movies and television series, Tevye kept calling him back. By his own estimate, he played the role 3,500 times on stage around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF")

TOPOL: (As Tevye, singing) To life, to life.

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF")

TOPOL: (As Tevye, singing) L'chaim, l'chaim, to life. Here's to the father I tried to be.

PAUL MANN: (As Lazar Wolf, singing) Here's to my bride-to-be. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.