Though he took on dozens of roles throughout his long career, Georg Von Trapp remained his best-known credit. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of the head of a large Austrian brood who defy and escape the Nazis. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the song "Edelweiss" specifically for him. (Mr. Bikel was himself Austrian, having been born in Vienna on May 2, 1924.)
But the role he played most often was that of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. On tour and at various venues, he portrayed the philosophical dairyman more than 2,000 times.
His other Broadway credits included Tonight in Samarkand, The Lark, The Rope Dancers, Cafe Crown, Pousse-Cafe and The Inspector General. He got his first Tony nomination for The Rope Dancers, a drama by Morton Wishengrad directed by Peter Hall.
His most significant film credits were "My Fair Lady," "The African Queen," "The Defiant Ones" and "I Want to Live!" His performance as a Sheriff in "The Defiant Ones," the story of two escaped convicts, brought him his sole Oscar nomination in 1959.
Outspoken and socially conscious, Mr. Bikel was as well known and accomplished in his civic activities as he was an an actor. He was active and vocal in defense of the rights of actors, serving as president of Actors’ Equity in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. He also co-founded the Actors Federal Credit Union in 1962. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to serve on the National Council for the Arts in 1977. A great supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, he was in 1997 awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. "What moves me is neither ethnocentric pride nor sectarian arrogance," he once said. "I make no claim that Jewish culture is superior to other cultures. But it is mine."
Bikel was also the subject of a 2014 documentary, "Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem," which he executive produced. View a clip below: