Actor Theodore Bikel
Actor Theodore Bikel Reuters

Jewish actor and singer Theodore Bikel died on Tuesday morning of natural causes at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his agent Robert Malcolm, according to The Associated Press (AP). He was 91.

Born in 1924, in Vienna, Austria, Bikel moved with his family to what was then Palestine (today Israel) when he was a teenager. While living on a kibbutz, he discovered his love for drama.

Bikel started acting in Tel Aviv's Habimah Theatre in 1943, then moved in 1946 to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

He was noted for the diversity of the roles he played, from a Scottish police officer to a Russian submarine skipper, Jewish refugee, Dutch sea captain and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. He sang in 21 languages.

He also appeared on numerous television shows, recorded books on tape, appeared in opera productions and issued more than 20 contemporary and folk music albums, noted AP. He also recorded albums of Yiddish songs.

Bikel received an Oscar nomination for his 1958 portrayal of a Southern sheriff in "The Defiant Ones," the acclaimed drama about two prison escapees, one black and one white.

The following year, Bikel starred on Broadway as Capt. Georg von Trapp in the original 1959 production of "The Sound of Music."

He is most remembered, however, for his longtime portrayal of Tevye in stage productions "Fiddler on the Roof."

Bikel did not appear in the original 1964 Broadway version or the 1971 film, but played Tevye more than 2,000 times on stage from 1967 onward.

Among his film roles, noted AP, he played the grumpy Soviet submarine captain in the Oscar-nominated 1966 Cold War comedy "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming." He played Kissinger in the TV movie "The Final Days."

A prolific recording artist, Bikel also helped found the Newport Folk Festival in 1959, an event that has drawn hundreds of thousands of fans to Rhode Island over the decades and launched the careers of many notable musicians.

Bikel spent much of his youth in what was then Palestine and is today Israel, and was fiercely devoted to supporting Jewish causes, as well as the Democratic Party and human rights groups. He was one of six leaders of the American Jewish Congress arrested while protesting in 1986 outside the Soviet embassy in Washington, over that government's restrictions on letting Jews leave the country.

He is survived by his wife, Aimee Ginsburg; sons Rob and Danny Bikel; stepsons Zeev and Noam Ginsburg; and three grandchildren.