LOS ANGELES — Veteran actor Theodore Bikel, best known for his starring Broadway role as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," died Tuesday at age 91 at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to his publicist.
The Austrian-born performer, who also created the stage role of Captain von Trapp in the original Broadway production of "The Sound of Music," died of natural causes at UCLA Medical Center, his spokesman, Harlan Boll, said in a statement.
Bikel first played his most famous role of Tevye in a production of "Fiddler" at Caesars Palace in late 1967 and the first six months of 1968. Because it was a "tab," or cut-down version of the musical, he once recalled that he was in for a surprise the next time he was hired in the role and had to learn the rest of the show.
"It was much harder than the full show, believe me," Bikel later told the Los Angeles Times of the 100-minute version. "I did it twice a night."
Harry Belafonte had recommended Bikel to Caesars management, and the cast ended up on "The Ed Sullivan Show" when it originated from Caesars in March 1968.
Bikel went on to perform the part of the struggling Jewish dairyman, and such memorable songs as "Tradition" and "If I Were a Rich Man," more than 2,000 times, the most of any Broadway actor, Boll said.
Bikel‘s long association with the role brought him back to Las Vegas when "Fiddler" ran for a week at the Aladdin in March 1995.
Bikel had a memorable moment in "The Sound of Music" singing "Edelweiss," which was written for him to sing during final off-Broadway tryouts of the show.
Bikel‘s big-screen career spanned more than 150 appearances, including his 1951 movie debut as a German naval officer in the classic "The African Queen" and an Oscar-nominated turn as a Southern sheriff opposite Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones."
He also played Zoltan Karpathy, the dialect expert, in the movie version of "My Fair Lady."
Bikel appeared in numerous television shows during three decades — ranging form "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to "Star Trek: The Next Generation," in which he played the adoptive father of Klingon Lieutenant Commander Worf.
As a recording artist, he produced several albums of Jewish folk songs.
Review-Journal reporter Mike Weatherford contributed to this report.