For many, Israel lost a bit of its smile and some of its sense of humor on
Tuesday, when comic and actor Sefi Rivlin, died of cancer at the age of
Rivlin was best known for his madcap sense of fun and irrepressible
In a way, he was something of an “Israeli Robin Williams.”
Any talk show host who lined up Rivlin among his guests, knew he or she were in
for a roller coaster ride. And Rivlin never disappointed, never pulling his
While he often exuded a childlike persona, Rivlin certainly also
had his serious side, and was a politically engaged and highly patriotic
Rivlin was born in 1947, in the then-agriculture- based
community of Nahalat Yehuda, which eventually became part of Rishon Lezion; he
lived in the same neighborhood all his life. He studied acting at the Beit Zvi
School of the Performing Arts and started his acting career at the Khan Theater
in Jerusalem in 1973, and worked under British- born director Mike Alfreds. His
first appearance was in Servant of Two Masters, a comedy written in 1743 by
Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni.
Rivlin’s talent was apparent from the
outset, and he was nominated for the 1973 David’s Harp Award for theater. Some
of the more serious side of Rivlin’s talents, albeit in a highly entertaining
format, came to the attention of the country at large in the Arugot Haheshek
(Flowerbeds of Desire) play, at the Bimot Theater, in which he starred alongside
established actor-comics Tuvia Tzafir and Rivka Michaeli.
trademark chaotic and tongue-incheek vehicles of artistic expression came to
fruition in the 1970s, in the groundbreaking satirical TV show Nikui Rosh.
Rivlin appeared in the second series of the show, in 1975-1976, alongside such
luminaries of Israel’s thespian community as Tzafir, Michaeli and Aliza Rosen.
It was the perfect vehicle for Rivlin to let rip with his prodigious comic
There were more starring roles on TV, most notably in the highly
successful children’s show Rega Im Dodley, together with Tzipi Mor and comedian
Rivlin played a character called Fistuk and, following the
show’s success, was given his own show, Habayit Shel Fistuk, which became one of
Israeli TV’s classic children’s programs. There was another envelope- pushing
comic role for Rivlin, as hapless detective Noah Rav Moach (Multibrained
In addition to his comic and serious acting skills, Rivlin also
had a fine singing voice and appeared in a number of smash musicals including,
in 1976, The Journeys of Benjamin the Third, together with Avraham Mor, which
was based on songs written by Naomi Shemer. There were more well-received comic
shows in the ‘70s, in which Rivlin starred, including The Legends of the
Brothers Grimberg and Ishtee Breirat Knass (My Wife the Fine Default), after
which he began to develop the cinematic side of his career in movies such Rak
Hayom (Only Today), in 1976, and the Hashigaon Hagadol (The Big Craze) romp, in
One of Rivlin’s most memorable TV roles was as Avi Etgar’s comic
sidekick on the popular early ’90s Saturday evening show, Motsash.
played a variety of characters on the show, with possibly the best-loved being
that of henpecked husband Yosef.
It was in 1977 when the Israeli public
first encountered Rivlin’s political leanings, when he starred in the Likud’s
political broadcasts in that year’s elections. He also lent his considerable
comic and persuasive weight to the party’s 1981 and 1984 campaigns, and in the
latter acted as a counterweight to the Hagashash Hahiver comic trio, who did
their utmost to attract voters for the Labor Party.
For many it was a
surprising move by Rivlin, but it was a mark of the actor’s universal appeal
that it was believed his appearance in the broadcasts helped the Likud to
success. While such broadcasts are not generally noted for their polished
entertainment value, many tuned in just to catch his slot, regardless of the
viewers’ own political preferences.
Rivlin got an opportunity to fuse his
singular entertainment skills and love of music when he co-presented the annual
Festigal children’s music contest in 1989, together with longtime pal
actress-comedienne Tzipi Shavit, and again in 1993, alongside children’s TV show
presenter Hanni Nachmias.
Rivlin was also soccer mad, having played in
the children’s youth and adult teams of Hapoel Rishon Lezion, and he had a star
turn in the TV comedy sports vehicle Offside.
In 2009 a gala charity show
was held in Rivlin’s honor, to which a pantheon on the entertainment fraternity
– the likes of Yehoram Gaon, Moni Moshonov, Eli Yatzpan and Rivka Michaeli –
lent their talents.
The proceeds from the show went to supporting artists
who had fallen on hard times.
Rivlin began to experience problems with
his vocal chords in 1993, and as a result, focused exclusively on TV
appearances, using a combination of talking techniques and technology to ensure
he was adequately audible. In 2007, he announced he was suffering from cancer of
the throat, and after undergoing several operations and chemotherapy, three
years later announced he had overcome the disease. Typically, he said he wanted
his successful battle with cancer to inspire other sufferers.
told me that he had bad news and less bad news,” Rivlin joked in an interview
after his diagnosis. “The bad news was that I had cancer throughout my body. The
less bad news was that I wasn’t going to die immediately.”
disease reappeared last year, and Rivlin lost the use of his voice following an
operation he underwent in September 2012. He died at Sheba Medical Center, and
was laid to rest in Rishon Lezion on Wednesday.