May 2, 1924–July 21, 2015
Theodore Bikel (Playwright and Performer) was born in Vienna in 1924 and left for Israel (then Palestine) at the age of 13. In 1946, he entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and graduated with honors. He appeared in several West End plays including A Streetcar Named Desire under the direction of Sir Laurence Olivier and The Love of Four Colonels by Peter Ustinov. In the U.S. his roster of memorable stage performances includes Tonight in Samarkand, The Rope Dancers, The Lark, The Sound of Music (in which he created the role of Baron von Trapp), I Do I Do, The Sunshine Boys, My Fair Lady, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well, Etc., Zorba and Fiddler on the Roof, in which he has played the role of Tevye more than 2,000 times over the past 37 years. Theodore Bikel has made more than 35 films, amongst which are The African Queen, The Enemy Below, The Russians are Coming, My Fair Lady, I Want to Live and The Defiant Ones, for which he received an Academy Award nomination.
Mr. Bikel has also starred in virtually every top dramatic show on TV and received an Emmy Award in 1988. He was also an accomplished concert artist and raconteur, giving numerous concerts and lectures each year, including his most recent appearances at the Jewish Music Festival in Cracow, Poland. He recorded 20 albums, two in the last two years. Theodore Bikel was active for many years in Actors’ Equity Association, serving from 1973 to 1982 as Vice President and as President. He also held the post of Vice President of the International Federation of Actors (FIA) from 1981 until 1991. He is currently President of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4A’s), a Board Member of the Americans for the Arts (formerly ACA) and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 to serve a five-year term on the National Council for the Arts. He holds honorary degrees from the Universities of Hartford, Seton Hall and the Hebrew Union College. His updated autobiography Theo, was published by the University of Wisconsin Press.
Throughout his career, Theo Bikel felt a particular responsibility to Jewish life and to the Jewish community. His numerous albums of Jewish folk music, his concerts and theater performances; his co-founding of Israel’s Cameri Theatre; his leadership in the Soviet Jewry movement and in the American Jewish Congress have distinguished him as a Jewish activist. Theo’s profound impact on Jewish culture is also evidenced by his leading role within the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. He was passionate about the survival of the Yiddish language and devotes much energy to insure its continued existence on the Jewish cultural scene.
Mr. Bikel’s latest accomplishment was as author and star of Sholom Aleichem: Laughter through Tears (www.laughterthroughtears.org) which had been performed in Washington, D.C., South Florida, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The production has now been adapted and transformed into a film starring Mr. Bikel.