Happy birthday, Abe Vigoda! You're still alive, right?

Feb. 24, 2012 at 3:18 PM ET

BARNEY MILLER - "Evacuation" - Season Three - 9/23/76 Wojo (Max Gail) discovered that the city hadn't updated emergency evacuation procedures, and Fish (Abe Vigoda) met his future foster daughter. Hal Linden (Barney), Ron Glass (Harris) and Jack Soo (Yemana) also starred. (ABC PHOTO ARCHIVES)

Happy birthday to actor Abe Vigoda, who turns 91 today!

Yes, Abe Vigoda is still alive. No, we're not kidding.

Vigoda's longevity has turned him into a punchline, a standing joke representing all those actors and actresses who are still with us, but seem perhaps like they might have passed on years before.

No insult to the man intended, but when there's a website (abevigoda.com) solely devoted to which side of the dirt you're waking up on, you've got to acknowledge and have fun with it.

Part of the joking about Vigoda's still-breathing status stems from a 1982 People magazine goof, where the magazine declared him dead. A New Jersey TV station perpetuated the goof years later. Vigoda took it well and started spoofing the jokes, posing in Variety sitting in a coffin with the People issue in question, and mocking the fact that many think he's dead on talk shows and even in movies.

Get past the "I'm not dead!" jokes, and you can remember Vigoda's acting talents. He played the sad-faced detective Phil Fish on "Barney Miller" (which made jokes about how old he was even then, FORTY YEARS AGO) and then took that same role to his own spin-off, "Fish."

And he played Corleone family caporegime Salvatore Tessio in the 1972 classic "The Godfather," where he is eventually executed for betraying the family. If you think for a minute Vigoda can't act, watch this scene. There's a beautiful moment when you see it dawn on Tessio's face that the last-minute changes in car assignments and who's going where is just a set-up for him to be killed, and Vigoda plays it subtly and perfectly.

When he realizes the jig is up, Vigoda famously delivers the line, "Tell Mike it was only business, I always liked him. "

The death joking stuff was only business, Mr. Vigoda. We always liked you too, and still do.


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