Leading Israel Actor Gideon Singer Dies at 88

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Gideon Singer, right, with Yankele Ben Sira, in 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod

Leading Israeli actor Gideon Singer died on Monday in Tel Aviv aged 88 of complications of heart surgery. He had a wide-ranging career on stage and appeared in a number of Israeli films in the 1960s and 1970s.

Singer had lived for the past three decades in Vienna, but wanted to die in Israel. He arrived in Israel a day before his death, accompanied by members of his family. He is survived by his wife, Shira, and four children.

The actor's most recent film appearance was in “Woman in Gold,” the 2015 American film about the efforts of a Jewish family to recover a painting that the Nazis had confiscated during the Holocaust in Austria. Singer played a restitution witness.

Born in 1926 in Brno, Czechoslovakia, he immigrated to pre-state Israel in 1940. He was a member of the Palmach, the strike force of the Haganah pre-state underground army. After being wounded, Singer joined the Palmach’s popular song and entertainment troupe, the Chizbatron.

Singer was the soloist in the original recording of the iconic Hebrew song “Hare'ut” (“The Friendship”), composed a year after the outbreak of Israel’s War of Independence, commemorating those who fell in battle. Later he was one of the founders of Reviat Moadon Hateatron (The Theater Club Quartet), which was active in the 1950s and '60s.

He played a number of roles on stage, notably in productions mounted by Habima, Israel’s national theater, as well as at the Cameri Theater. He portrayed Captain Hook in a local production of “Peter Pan,” and after appearing in “Man of La Mancha” in Israel, he was invited to play the role of Don Quixote in the musical on Broadway. He returned to Israel in 1977 and joined the Be’er Sheva Theater. Thus, in his lifetime, Singer performed in most of the repertory and private theaters in the country.

His appearances in Israeli films in the 1960s and '70s included “I Like Mike” (1961), “The Blaumilch Canal” (1969), “My Mother the General” (1979) and “The Flying Camel” (1994).

Among other roles, Singer will be particularly remembered for his appearance in the 1970s' television series “Delet Haksamim,” in which he played a magician.

In 1983, Singer decided to leave Israel after losing his job at Habima. He moved to Vienna, and went on to appear both on stage and in films made in Austria and Germany. Nine years ago, Habima marked Singer’s 80th birthday with an event in his honor.

“Gideon was one of the giant artists that we’ve had here among those who were the foundation of our entire theater culture,” actress and singer Shulamit Aharon, who acted with him, noted in eulogizing Singer. “He was an amazing actor, singer and comic on an international level. He had the sense of humor and timing of a comic giant.”

For his part, Yossi Yizraeli, who directed productions at Habima in which

Singer performed, noted that the actor had been “a youth idol” early in his career. In comments to Haaretz, Yizraeli added, however: “It’s a shame that Israeli theater didn’t respect his old age.”

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