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Abe Vigoda dies at 94: Watch his funniest, sweetest moments on TODAY

"Just thinking of him now fills me with joy," Meredith Vieira said in a statement to TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

Before passing away at age 94, actor Abe Vigoda brought charisma, kindness and plenty of hugs to TODAY, where his self-effacing humor and overall positivity resonated with co-anchors present and past.

In 2009, after a TODAY graphic suggested that Matt Lauer would look like Vigoda after a few more years on the job, the actor — whose seemingly endless credits include "The Godfather" and "Barney Miller" — emerged with feigned anger to protest the comparison. (Vigoda later warmed to the idea, admitting Lauer bore a resemblance to Vigoda's grandson, Paulie.)

Abe Vigoda attends the Friars Club Roast of Betty White in New York, Wednesday, May 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)Charles Sykes / AP

It was the latest in a series of punch lines about Vigoda's status as a living, breathing human being, a joke that had become a running gag after a 1982 article in People magazine incorrectly claimed that he had died.

"I was about to go onstage to do my part in Calgary, Canada," he told the TODAY panel, which laughed throughout his retelling of the story. "The producer says, 'You cannot go on.' I said, 'Why not? I gotta go on.' He said, 'No, you can't, because you're dead. People magazine says you're dead.' That's how that came about, and it's been with me all these years."

During the segment, Lauer credited the three-time Emmy Award nominee for being a great sport. "He has got a great sense of humor, but also knows how to take a joke very, very well." Lauer told his fellow TODAY co-anchors, while Vigoda listened to the mini-tribute. "You're really one of the legends, Abe."

Lauer likely had that moment and others on his mind when he expressed his condolences Tuesday on Twitter. "He made me smile every time he walked into our studio and brightened our day," Lauer tweeted. "Thank you Abe for your grace and humor."

Fellow TODAY co-anchor Al Roker also mourned the loss of Vigoda and praised the actor for his hilarious late-night collaborations with David Letterman.

Meredith Vieira had her own sweet moments with Vigoda, who'd grinned and fashioned a bright-orange "Abe [loves] Meredith" T-shirt as part of her TODAY sendoff in June 2011.

Abe Vagoda visits the TODAY Plaza for his friend Meredith Vieira's final segment as a regular TODAY co-host.Rob Kim / FilmMagic

Part of a musical tribute to Vieira's TODAY show run, Vigoda hugged the host while Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" played in the background.

Abe Vigoda was always one of Meredith Vieira's favorite guests, and he paid her a special visit for her last day on TODAY.Jemal Countess / Getty Images

On a day full of emotions, Vieira wasn't shy about sharing them with one of her favorite guests.

An emotional Meredith Vieira hugs actor Abe Vigoda on June 8, 2011, after he helped pay tribute to her along with the TODAY staff.Jemal Countess / Getty Images

When Vieira returned to Studio 1A in 2014 to discuss her new talk show, Vigoda was there to surprise her — and again welcome her with open arms.

After co-anchors Lauer and Carson Daly built up the suspense leading up to the reveal, Vieira shouted and laughed with joy over her special guest, who joined her, Lauer, Daly and Roker on the big orange couch for a catch-up chat.

When Vieira noted that her talk show premiered in New York that day at 2 p.m., she asked Vigoda what he's normally doing at that time. "At 2 o'clock, I'm going to have a coffee and corn muffin with my daughter," he said. "Oh, yeah, and I want to watch [your show]."

Vigoda took a moment to appreciate his surroundings, too. "It's such a lovely thing to be here, Matt," he said. "It's so good to be with Matt and Meredith and Al and Carson."

Actor Abe Vigoda, shown in character on the Los Angeles, Ca. set as Detective Fish in \"Barney Miller\", Aug. 8, 1977. (AP Photo/Jeff Robbins)Jeff Robbins / AP

In a statement to TODAY, Meredith Vieira expressed condolences of her own. "Abe Vigoda was one of the nicest guys in the business ...talent with a capital T, self deprecating and so sweet," she said. "I had the privilege of sitting with him on the TODAY couch several times. He always left me with a smile on my face. And just thinking of him now fills me with joy."

Follow writer Chris Serico on Twitter.