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Newport Folk Icon Theodore Bikel Dead at 91; Original 'Sound of Music' Star

by Ryan Book   Jul 22, 2015 10:41 AM EDT

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Theodore Bikel, an actor known for his work in Fiddler on The Roof and The Sound of Music, as well as an accomplished musician who founded the Newport Folk Festival, has died at the age of 91. A statement from his publicist reports that the performer died of natural causes at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Many an actor has been described as "versatile," but Bikel truly takes the cake. It's tough to choose a starting point when examining his career, but Broadway seems as likely a place as any. The actor was nominated for multiple Tonys throughout his time on the Great White Way, but he's best known for his roles in Fiddler on The Roof and The Sound of Music. He was the first actor to portray Captain Georg Von Trapp in the latter, and he starred in more than 2,200 performances as protagonist Tevye the milkman in the former.

Obviously he had solid vocal chops as a Broadway actor. But that doesn't mean an actor can just jump into opera. Bikel, however, was an anomaly: He starred in performances with the Philadelphia Opera Company, the Cleveland Opera Company and the Los Angeles Opera Company during the late '80s and '90s.

One aspect of Bikel's life that has been criminally underreported is his influence in the music world. He was a noted folk performer by himself, performing at Carnegie Hall and for the Queen of England, while hosting a popular weekly radio program, At Home with Theodore Bikel. His greatest accomplishment within music may be the least well-known however: Bikel helped found of the iconic Newport Music Festival during 1959.

And yes, the actor did do roles that didn't require singing as well. He starred in such classics as The African Queen, and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the sheriff in The Defiant Ones.

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