Herschel Bernardi, 62, the furrow-faced character actor who was best known as the other Zorba (besides Anthony Quinn) and the other Tevye of "Fiddler on the Roof" (after Zero Mostel) -- and least known, but perhaps most often heard as the TV commercial voice of Charlie the Tuna -- died yesterday.
His manager, Charles Stern, said Bernardi died in his sleep of a heart attack at his Los Angeles home.
Bernardi, whose parents were itinerant Yiddish actors, was born in New York Oct. 30, 1923. He used to say he couldn't remember when he wasn't acting because he made his stage debut as a walk-on -- or actually, a carry-on -- in his mother's arms at age 3.
Although his early training was in live theater, he also spent many years in television, most notably as the outwardly cynical but reliably stout-hearted Lieutenant Jacoby in television's "Peter Gunn" from 1958 to 1961.
From 1970 to 1972, he starred as "Arnie," a loading foreman suddenly promoted to manager who struggled in sit-com style with the transition from blue to white collar.
"They called me a utility face," Bernardi once said. "I never had any illusions about being a leading man."
Bernardi was much in demand as a character "voice," creating not only the upwardly hopeful Charlie of Star-Kist tuna, but also the eponymous "Ho-Ho-Ho" symbol of Green Giant vegetables. He also lent his voice to various animated cartoon series, including "The Jetsons."
Bernardi, who acquired the stage rights to Nikos Kazantzakis' novel "Zorba the Greek" in the mid-1960s, played the exuberant Zorba in the original Broadway musical version for eight months in 1968.
He followed Mostel in "Fiddler" on Broadway as Tevye, the Russian Jewish milkman who discusses his domestic difficulties with God; and starred in a four-year revival between 1980 and 1983, ultimately performing the part more than 1,300 times.
Despite Mostel's greater fame in the role, and the fact that Israeli actor Topol played the part in the movie, "Fiddler" playwright Joseph Stein called Bernardi "the best Tevye of all." He was nominated for a Tony Award for the part in 1982.
Although the ebullient and earthy Zorba and Tevye had much in common, including their love-thy-neighbor/live-for-today philosophies, Bernardi readily admitted to a soft spot for Tevye because of his lifelong fondness for the writings of Sholom Aleichem, on whose stories "Fiddler" was based.
Not only were his parents "gypsy actors" who crossed the United States performing Yiddish theater, Bernardi's first off-Broadway role was in "The World of Sholom Aleichem" in 1954.
Bernardi and Mostel had another career landmark in common: Both were blacklisted by the entertainment industry during the 1950s for supposedly Communist sympathies, and both had parts in Martin Ritt's 1976 movie "The Front," which dealt with the Hollywood witch hunts.
Bernardi's other movie credits include "Irma La Douce," "Love with the Proper Stranger" and "A Cold Wind in August."
In 1969, Bernardi was divorced from his wife of 14 years. They had three children, who survive. He is survived by his current wife, Terry, and a 15-month-old son, Michael.