Remembering the actor’s classic appearances on “Letterman” and “Conan,” where he often poked fun at the many mistaken reports of his demise
Abe Vigoda, the “Godfather” and “Barney Miller” star who died today at age 94, was dogged by reports of his death as far back as the early 1980s — so much so that the whole thing became a running gag across late-night television and elsewhere, with Vigoda often in on the joke.
In a 1980s appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman,” Vigoda showed up to prove that a recent news story about his untimely demise was untrue. (See video above.) Later on, he regularly popped by “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” to poke fun at his own still-alive persona.
In the end, the joke really was his: Vigoda lived another three decades and easily survived both of those classic talk shows.
Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2016 (Photos)
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Vilmos Zsigmond, the Academy Award-winning cinematographer for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," died in Big Sur, California on Jan. 1 at the age of 85.
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Craig Strickland, frontman for the country band Backroad Anthem, was found dead from hypothermia on Jan. 4. He was last seen on Dec. 27 when his boat capsized while duck hunting in Oklahoma. He was 29.
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Robert Stigwood, former manager of Cream and The Bee Gees, died in London on Jan. 4 at the age of 81. He produced the smash hit albums "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease."
Pat Harrington Jr. died from complications of Alzheimer's on Jan. 6. He is best known for playing superintendent Schneider on the 1970s CBS sitcom "One Day at a Time."
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Sian Blake, who starred in the British soap "EastEnders" in the 1990s, was found buried in her garden with her two children on Jan. 5. Police were investigating the deaths.
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Iconic singer-songwriter and style icon David Bowie died on Jan. 10, two days after the release of his 25th album "Blackstar." He was 69 years old.
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Alan Rickman, the British film icon known worldwide for roles in "Die Hard" and the "Harry Potter" films, died on Jan. 14 from cancer. He was 69.
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Celine Dion’s husband and former manager, René Angélil, died on Jan. 14 following a battle with cancer. He was 73.
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Glenn Frey, the singer, guitarist and founding member of The Eagles, died on January 18 at 67. The musician and co-writer of hits like “Hotel California” and “Take It Easy” had been struggling with intestinal issues.
Abe Vigoda, star of "The Godfather" and "Barney Miller," died on January 26 at 94. Vigoda earned three Emmy nominations for his performance as a police detective in "Barney Miller" and became famous beyond the screen for numerous false reports of his death. Vigoda kept taking acting jobs until 2014.
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Joe Alaskey, legendary voice actor, died on February 3 at 63. Alaskey began voicing several Looney Tunes characters, including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, in 1989 following the death of original Looney Tunes voice actor Mel Blanc. Alaskey's performance as Daffy in the cartoon "Duck Dodgers" earned him an Emmy in 2004.
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Paul Kantner, founding member of Jefferson Airplane, died January 28 at 74. Kantner was the only member of Jefferson Airplane to also appear on all the albums of the band's successor, Jefferson Starship.
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Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind, and Fire, died on February 3 at age 74. Under White's leadership, Earth, Wind, and Fire won six Grammys and reached the top of the charts through songs like "Shining Star" and "In the Stone." Though a Parkinson's diagnosis ended his touring career in 1994, he remained an active part of the music industry until his death.
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Denise Matthews, a.k.a. Vanity, died on February 15 at 57. Matthews was known as the protege of Prince and a member of Vanity 6. Matthews had long suffered from kidney failure and was being treated for abdominal illness shortly before her death.
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George Gaynes, star of the "Police Academy" films, died on February 15 at 98. Gaynes played Commandant Eric Lassard, the head of the titular academy. He also had famous roles as the grumpy foster father Henry Warnimont in "Punky Brewster" and as an actor smitten with a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in "Tootsie."
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Harper Lee, author of the literary classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," died in her sleep in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama during the early morning hours of Feb. 19. She was 89 years old.
George Kennedy died of a heart ailment on Feb. 28 at age 91. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "Cool Hand Luke" and also co-starred in "The Dirty Dozen," "Airport" and "The Naked Gun" films.
Nancy Reagan died of congestive heart failure on March 6 at age 94. The actress-turned-first lady starred in films such as “Night Into Morning” (1951) and “Hellcats of the Navy” (1957), in which she appeared with her husband, eventual President Ronald Reagan, and led the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign of the 1980s.
George Martin, the producer for the Beatles, died on March 8 at age 90. The mastermind behind the Beatles' unparalleled success was affectionately known as "The Fifth Beatle."
Keith Emerson, founding member of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on March 11 at age 71. ELP is known as one of the most famous rock bands of the '70s, and Emerson also worked as a film composer on movies like the Sylvester Stallone thriller, "Nighthawks."
Frank Sinatra, Jr. died of a heart attack on March 16 at age 72. The son of the legendary singer served as a musical director and conductor for his father, and often performed his father's greatest hits while on tour.
Rob Ford, former mayor of Toronto, died of cancer on March 22 at age 46. Ford was known for a turbulent political career that included, among other things, confessing during his tenure as mayor that he smoked crack cocaine.
Malik Taylor, a.k.a. Phife Dawg, died on March 23 at age 45. The rapper was the co-founder of the legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.
Joe Garagiola, MLB announcer, died on March 23 at age 90. In addition to a sportscasting career that was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, Garagiola also was known as a panelist on NBC's "Today" show and a guest host on "The Tonight Show."
Ken Howard, president of SAG-AFTRA, died on March 23 at age 71. Howard was responsible for restoring stability to the Screen Actors Guild in 2008 and merging it with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists four years later.
Stand-up comedian Garry Shandling died of a heart attack on March 24 at age 66. Shandling's subversive brand of TV comedy paved the way for future hits like "Seinfeld" and "The Sarah Silverman Program."
Earl Hamner, TV writer and producer, died of cancer on March 24 at age 92. Hamner was the creator and narrator of the famed family TV series, "The Waltons."
Tom Whedon, father of "The Avengers" director Joss Whedon, died on March 25 at age 83. Tom Whedon was a writer on several classic TV shows, including a stint as showrunner for the children's series "The Electric Company."
Erik Bauersfeld, voice of "Star Wars" character Admiral Ackbar, died on April 4 at age 93. Ackbar's famous line "It's a trap!" is commonly spoken amongst "Star Wars" fans and in Internet culture
Merle Haggard, famed country music star, died of pneumonia on April 6 at age 79. Haggard was most well-known for writing the song "Okie From Muskogee."
Doris Roberts, star of "Everybody Loves Raymond," died on April 18 at age 90. Roberts won five Emmys in her career, including four as Ray Romano's mother, Marie.
Joanie Laurer, a.k.a. Chyna, died at age 45 on April 21. Known as the "Eighth Wonder Of The World," Chyna was one of the biggest stars of WWE's Attitude Era and a member of the infamous faction D-Generation X.
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Guy Hamilton, famed British director, died at age 93 on April 21. The director was known for helming four James Bond films: "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever," "The Man With The Golden Gun," and "Live and Let Die."
Prince Rogers Nelson, known simply to his fans as Prince, died at age 57 on April 21. Prince was known worldwide as one of the biggest rock stars of the 80s, with albums like "Purple Rain" and "Sign o' The Times."
Michelle McNamara, crime writer wife of Patton Oswalt, died on April 22 at age 46. McNamara was the founder of the website True Crime Diary, which provided news on developing investigations and cold cases.
Reg Grundy, veteran TV producer, died on May 8 at age 92. Grundy is considered to be the most prolific producer in the history of Australian television, launching multiple acting careers and hit shows, including the long-running soap opera "Neighbors."
William Schallert, veteran actor, died on May 9 at age 93. Schallert took on over 400 roles in a career that continued until 2014. He served as SAG president from 1979-81, during which the guild entered a three-month strike over home video sales.
Gene Gutowski, Holocaust survivor and film producer, died May 11 at age 90. Gutowski produced four films by Roman Polanski, including "The Pianist." He lost his family in the Holocaust and worked in U.S. intelligence to hunt down Nazis after World War II.
Morley Safer, longtime correspondent for "60 Minutes," died on May 19 at age 84. Safer won a dozen Emmys during his 46-year career on CBS News' marquee program.
John Berry, founding member of the Beastie Boys, died on May 20 at age 52. Berry was a member of the group during its formative years, but left shortly after the release of their debut EP. The Beastie Boys thanked Berry for his influence during their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech.
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Burt Kwouk, star of Peter Sellers' "Pink Panther" films, died May 24 at age 85. Kwouk played Inspector Clouseau's servant Cato, whom was instructed to attack Clouseau when he least expected to keep him on his toes. Kwouk also appeared in the Bond films "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice"
Joe Fleishaker, low-budget film actor, died on May 25 at age 62. With a weight of over 500 lbs., Fleishaker gained cult fame as Troma Films' "biggest action star" and was featured in the "Toxic Avenger" series
Muhammad Ali, legendary professional boxer, died on June 3 at age 74. Ali was a three-time heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest and, at his peak, the most polarizing athletes who ever lived.
Kevin Ferguson, known better as MMA star Kimbo Slice, died June 6 at age 42. Slice became an early Internet star thanks to viral videos of his unsanctioned street fights, which he parlayed into a mixed martial arts career with Bellator.
Peter Shaffer, Oscar-winning screenwriter, died on June 6 at age 90. Shaffer won two Tony awards for penning the scripts to "Equus" and "Amadeus," the former of which featured Daniel Radcliffe in a 2007 revival at the peak of his "Harry Potter" fame. In 1984, Shaffer won an Oscar for writing the film adaptation of "Amadeus."
Theresa Saldana, star of the film "Raging Bull," died on June 7 at age 61. Along with her performance in Martin Scorsese's famed film, Saldana also received a Golden Globe award in 1994 for her work alongside Michael Chiklis on the show, "The Commish"
Hockey legend Gordie Howe died on June 10 at age 88. Howe is considered by many to be the greatest hockey player ever, winning the Stanley Cup four times with the Detroit Red Wings and scoring over 800 goals. Howe is also known for being featured in an episode of "The Simpsons," when Bart uses Howe's picture as part of a fake love letter to get back at his teacher.
Actor Michu Meszaros died June 13 at age 76. Meszaros is most famous for his work in the NBC sitcom "Alf," where he played the titular alien that lands on Earth and lives with a human family. Outside of the Alf suit, he gained fame for playing the creepy butler Hans in the cult horror film, "Waxwork."
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Actor Anton Yelchin, who appeared in Paramount's "Star Trek" reboot series, died on June 19 at the age of 27. The actor was fatally pinned between his own car and a brick mailbox at his San Fernando Valley home, police confirmed to TheWrap.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and author of dozens of books about his experience as a Holocaust survivor, died July 2 at his Manhattan home at age 87.
Michael Cimino, visionary director of movies such as "The Deer Hunter" and "Heaven's Gate," died on July 2 at age 77. "The Deer Hunter" won five Oscars including Best Picture for its depiction of traumatized Vietnam War soldiers, while "Heaven's Gate" got panned upon first release but later received critical acclaim when Cimino's uncut version was released in 2012.
Robin Hardy, director of the British cult classic "The Wicker Man," died on July 2 at age 86. Since its release in 1973, "The Wicker Man" has become known as one of the finest works in the history of British cinema. Its lead actor, Christopher Lee, called it the the best film he ever worked on. In May 2016, the band Radiohead released a stop-motion rendition of "The Wicker Man" as a music video for their single, "Burn The Witch."
Garry Marshall, creator of "Happy Days," died on July 19 at age 81. In addition to Happy Days, Marshall's filmography included movies like "Pretty Woman" and "The Princess Diaries."
A look back at the stars of movies, TV, media and music we lost this year