Nehemiah Persoff, ‘Twilight Zone,’ ‘Yentl’ star, dead at 102

Nehemiah Persoff, a prolific character actor known for his roles in “The Twilight Zone,” “Yentl” and countless others, died Tuesday at 102. A family friend confirmed the screen icon’s passing in a statement to Deadline.

Persoff had passed away at a rehabilitation facility in San Luis Obispo, California, several years after he retired from acting due to a stroke and other health issues.

Born in Jerusalem, the thespian and his family moved to the US in 1929, eventually ending up in New York City. His road to stardom began in 1947 when Persoff was discovered by Charles Laughton and cast in his production of “Galileo.” A year later, Persoff made his film debut in “The Naked City” (1948), following it up with an uncredited role as a silent cabbie in the seminal film “On The Waterfront” (1954).

Barbra Streisand listens to Nehemiah Persoff in a scene in the movie “Yentl” from 1983.
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Persoff poses for the movie "Yentl" circa 1983.
Persoff in “Yentl” circa 1983.
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The fledgling actor went on to appear in a smorgasbord of iconic TV series of the decade, including “Goodyear Playhouse,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Playhouse 90” and “The Twilight Zone.” In the latter, he played Carl Lanser in the 1959 episode “Judgment Night,” in which a “man finds himself on a ship in the Atlantic, not knowing who he is, nor how he got there.”

Persoff’s career blossomed in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and even into the ’90s. Some of his more legendary TV roles during that time included on “The Untouchables,” “The Wild Wild West,” “Impossible mission,” “Gunsmoke,” “Marcus Welby, MD,”Baretta,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Hawaii Five-0” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Persoff in the ABC TV movie "The Sex Symbol."
Persoff in the ABC TV movie “The Sex Symbol” (1974).
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Persoff as Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, extras in the ABC TV movie "The Missiles of October" (1974).
Persoff as foreign minister Andrei Gromyko in the ABC TV movie “The Missiles of October” (1974).
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Character in "The Big Valley" (1966).
Persoff in “The Big Valley” (1966).
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Not just a star on the small screen, the prolific dramatist appeared in a slew of hit films as well, including Humphrey Bogart’s final movie role “The Harder They Fall” (1956), “Some Like It Hot,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Yentl,” in which he portrayed Mendel, the father of Barbra Streisand’s titular character. He also voiced Papa Mousekewitz in the 1986 animated immigration epic “An American Tail.”

Persoff is survived by children Daniel, Jeff, Perry and Dahlia, several grandchildren as well as nieces and nephews.

Nehemiah Persoff as Lt. Cal Nourse in the "CLIMAX!" episode, "On The Take" (1958).
Nehemiah Persoff as Lt. Cal Nourse in the “CLIMAX!” episode of “On The Take” (1958).
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Character in "Mob Squad" (1972).
Persoff in “Mod Squad” (1972).
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