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Abe Vigoda Did It All in Advertising, From a Live 1951 TV Spot to the 2010 Super Bowl


Not many actors can boast a career spanning seven decades, but Abe Vigoda—who died Tuesday at age 94—was one of them. And his commercial career was just as long, beginning not long after the advent of TV advertising itself and continuing up through the Super Bowl just a few years ago.

Check out a few of his notable ad appearances below.

This first one is a Motorola sketch from the May 16, 1951, episode of the live TV show Four Star Revue. Motorola sponsored the show, and it's fun to see Jimmy Durante step out of character for a meta moment at the beginning. ("Folks," he says, "you and I have been good friends all year, but I've gotta be honest with you. This is a commercial.")

Vigoda plays the cab driver, amusingly pitching the product when he should be driving.

Here he is in a 1968 spot for the AMC Rebel hardtop automobile. This was still a few years before The Godfather made him famous.

In this 1978 Fresca spot, Vigoda plays his character Detective Phil Fish from Barney Miller, which was then in the middle of its eight-season run. His low-key "Wow" is perfect.

Flash-forward to 2002, when Vigoda appeared in an ad for the Yankees' YES Network, just months old at the time. The spot was made by DDB New York and directed by Hungry Man's Bryan Buckley. The script had called for an "Abe Vigoda-like" character, but the casting folks happened to know Vigoda's agent, and he took the job, Shoot magazine reported at the time.

"It was weird because I grew up with Barney Miller, and you never imagine in your whole life that you will actually direct Abe Vigoda," Buckley said.

In 2004, Vigoda starred with a smorgasbord of other celebs—Randy Johnson, Penn & Teller, Rachel Hunter, The Flaming Lips and more—in this Hewlett-Packard ad.

Vigoda voiced the Grim Reaper in this 2009 Super Bowl commercial by Campbell Mithun for H&R Block—a sly nod to the rumors (accidentally started by People magazine in 1982, and which became something of a running joke) that he had died. 

His final commercial was his most celebrated, as he co-starred with Betty White in this Snickers spot on the 2010 Super Bowl—launching BBDO New York's "You're not you when you're hungry" campaign, which continues today. 

In 2012, White told Adweek that she had known Vigoda for years, but hadn't worked with him, before shooting the Snickers ad. "When they tackled him [in the spot], I was worried because it looked like a real hit," she said. "I was just glad that he was only acting." 

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