​Character actor Fyvush Finkel dead at 93

The veteran of Yiddish theater became a familiar face on stage, TV and films, including "Fiddler on the Roof," "Boston Public," and an Emmy-winning role on "Picket Fences."

20th Century Fox

NEW YORK - Character actor Fyvush Finkel, whose stage and screen career stretched from the days of New York City's Yiddish theater to Broadway's "Fiddler on the Roof" and an Emmy-winning role on TV's "Picket Fences," has died. He was 93.

Finkel's son, Ian, confirmed his father's death Sunday in Manhattan to The Associated Press.

CBS News

For more than eight decades the Brooklyn-born Finkel had appeared on stage, in films or on television. His career in Yiddish theater started at age nine, as a boy soprano. He became one of the highest-paid actors in the Second Avenue theater district -- singing and dancing the jitterbug.

He had what The New York Times called "the face that could launch a thousand shticks."

When Yiddish theater faded and the houses themselves were torn down, Finkel found himself in his 40s the father of two and a star without a stage. He worked bar mitzvahs and weddings, before Jerome Robbins called him to audition for "Fiddler on the Roof." Finkel would play Mordcha on Broadway, and Tevye, the lead, on a national tour.

After "Fiddler," Finkel auditioned for 12 shows, and didn't get any of them.

It was then, he told "Sunday Morning"'s Richard Schlesinger in 2014, that he decided to go back to school.

"My family laughed: 'You're going to school, a man of 52?' I said, 'Yes. I wanna know what's wrong.'"

Fyvush Finkel in "Picket Fences."

CBS

He learned how to perform for the camera, and in his 50s reinvented himself as a movie actor. It was his appearance in Sidney Lumet's 1990 crime drama "Q&A" that led to his role as attorney Douglas Wambaugh in "Picket Fences," and an Emmy Award.

His other film credits include "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Seize the Day," "For Love or Money," "Nixon," and the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man."

On TV, he also starred on "Boston Public," and guest-starred on "Kojak," "Fantasy Island," "Harry's Law" and "Blue Bloods."

His off-Broadway credits include Mr. Mushnik in the musical "Little Shop of Horrors," "Gorky," and a cabaret show, "Finkel's Follies."

He earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for 1989's "Cafe Crown," his last Broadway appearance.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.