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 66.

Rivlin was best known for his madcap sense of fun and irrepressible comic turns.

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 punches.

While he often exuded a childlike persona, Rivlin certainly also had his serious side, and was a politically engaged and highly patriotic Israeli.

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.

Rivlin’s 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 skills.

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 Shlomo Nitzan.

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 Noah).

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 1986.

One of Rivlin’s most memorable TV roles was as Avi Etgar’s comic sidekick on the popular early ’90s Saturday evening show, Motsash.

He 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.

“The doctor 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.”

Sadly, the 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.

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