Dudu Topaz: The Rise and Fall of Israel's Ratings King

Dudu Topaz's suicide put to rest a life riddled with wit, controversy and ultimately, tragedy.

Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim

The suicide of entertainer Dudu Topaz on Thursday morning brought to an abrupt end a life riddled with extraordinary success and constant controversy.

Topaz was already a household name by 1981, when he remarked to a packed left wing political rally that he was happy that the crowd included none of the Likud's "chachchahim," a derogatory term for Jews of North African descent.

He was severely and publicly criticized for his remarks, and was subsequently banned from Israel's public broadcasting channel for three years.

Topaz rebounded quickly from the affair with a successful stand up show. His rise to stardom came soon after, with a series of hugely successful variety shows broadcasted the mid-1990s, in which he achieved nothing less than ratings domination.

One of the episodes hit a yet-to-be-broken ratings record, drawing an astounding 51 percent of Israeli homes after Topaz had claimed he would showcase aliens.

However, even at the height of his success controversy continued to plague Topaz, as in 1995 Topaz broke the glasses of TV critic Meir Schnitzer over an unflattering review.

The popularity of Topaz's shows slowly waned all though the decade, and into the next, until his show was finally canceled in 2005.

The nadir of Topaz's public life, however, was reached during recent events, tying the former TV star with a series of violent attacks.

Topaz was arrested in June in connection with attacks on TV producer Shira Margalit, the CEO of the Channel 2 Keshet franchise Avi Nir in November 2008 and actors' agent Boaz Ben-Zion some six months ago.

The final act was played out Thursday morning, when according to prison, Topaz hanged himself with the cord of an electric kettle in the shower stall next to his cell at around 6 A.M., putting to rest a life riddled in wit, controversy, and, ultimately tragedy.

Topaz, before his death: Israeli TV industry let me down

In this short clip from the interview program "Shnaim" Topaz is seen talking about how he felt the local TV industry let him down.

Topaz can be heard telling interviewer Lior Suchard how he felt he was betrayed by Israel's biggest television stars, including top TV presenter Tzvika Hadar, who Police say Topaz allegedly planned as a future target.

"It hurts. Today in the [TV] business. People are garbage, shits, opportunists," Topaz said, listing a list of TV starts that he says failed to return his calls.

"People that were banging at my door so I would put them on my show, Tzvika Hadar ? made his first appearance with me, Orna Banai ? made her first appearance with me, Eli and Mariano ? first appearance on my show, Naor Zion ? made his first appearance on my show, Yeladim Sorgim L'Elohim, Alterman and Greinich ? made their first appearance on my show, they sat in my hallway and waited for me to let them in, and I did, and they turned into stars."

But when my ratings were low in Channel 10 and I needed someone, a star, that could give a little glamour, of success ? none of them retuned my calls."

In what could seems like an eerie foreshadowing of the kind of violence Topaz was later charged with, the former megastar told Suchard how he felt such people should be treated.

"You know that in Israel there's a group of people who don't return calls? You know that they should be killed? There's no way that someone doesn't return calls. It's hurting someone's dignity," Topaz said.

"Did you know that there's people who don't return calls?"

"Do you know?"

"I want to repeat that sentence: If there are people who should be executed, it's the people that don't return any calls. They're hurting people. Return a call! It's not nice to not return a call. Not to keep your promise."

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