Curtain Down

"This is a sad day and a tragic ending to a difficult period, which overshadowed other, more cooperative days," read the official statement by Channel 2 franchisee Keshet, which went on to offer condolences to the family.

Considering how plagued by controversy Dudu Topaz was throughout his career, it is perhaps strange to recall he began his television career as an English teacher on a children's program.

He was born in 1946 to Lili and Eliahu Goldenberg. After completing his military service he went to study acting in London, and in later life would often read out Shakespearean monologues to demonstrate his skills. His debut was in the Haifa Theater, and his first television appearance was in an educational English program on Channel 1.

By 1981, Topaz was already a household name when he remarked to a left-wing rally at the conclusion of the 10th general elections how happy he was 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, time he used to develop and perform several successful stand-up shows.

His true, and so far unsurpassed, stardom came in the mid 1990s, with the launch of Channel 2. He developed such an intimate connection with his audience that when he asked them to turn off their lights, the entire country instantly went dark.

On another episode, Topaz hit a still-unbroken ratings record, drawing an astounding 51 percent of Israeli homes after claiming he would present aliens live on air.

At the height of his fame, Topaz was voted by viewers not only as the sexiest man in Israel, but as the most trustworthy one, and the one most favored for the position of prime minister.

But even then Topaz was never far from controversy, responding angrily and aggressively to any criticism or perceived dissent. In 1995, TV critic Meir Schnitzer was sitting in the Tel Aviv Cinematheque when Topaz sat down next to him. When the room went dark Topaz attacked the journalist, wounding him and breaking his glasses. The motive for the attack was a negative review.

In 1997 the entertainer was caught with Ecstasy pills, and in 2000, Keshet was fined for allowing Topaz to host Italian parliamentarian and former porn star Cicciolina.

In 2002, Topaz bit the arm of Argentinean telenovela star Natalia Oreiro. Attacked for this and other sexist actions and remarks, Topaz commented: "The criticism comes from evil and stupidity ... mostly jealousy. I weep for the self-righteous feminist organizations ... If there's anything I regret, it's not biting the other arm."

In 2003, two complaints of sexual harassment were filed against Topaz, one by a female security guard at the studios where his show was filmed, and one by a Keshet worker, who claimed Topaz has shoved his tongue down her ear.

In 2004, as a new tender for Channel 2 airtime loomed, and in view of the controversy, Keshet decided to cancel the show and cut off its relationship with Topaz.

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

He was arrested in May in connection with attacks on TV producer Shira Margalit and Keshet CEO Avi Nir in November 2008; and talent agent Boaz Ben-Zion some six months ago. He was later charged in the attacks.

The final act was played out yesterday morning, when according to prison authorities, Topaz hanged himself with the cord of an electric kettle in the shower stall next to his cell at around 7 A.M., putting to rest a life riddled in wit, controversy, and, ultimately tragedy. He is survived by three sons and a brother.