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(photo credit: Cameri Theatre)
Yisrael "Poli" Poliakov, actor, singer and member of the legendary comedy trio Hagashash Hahiver (The Pale Scout), died Monday night of cancer at Petah Tikva's Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus, at age 66.
Poliakov was hospitalized two weeks ago with a heart ailment; his death was announced on Tuesday morning.
He was born in Jerusalem in 1941, grew up in Tel Aviv and studied at the Kfar Hayarok agricultural high school. He planned to work as a farmer, but members of the Nahal Brigade's entertainment troupe spotted him at a school party and recruited him.
His professional career began in 1961 when he joined the band Hatarnegolim (The Roosters), composed of graduates of IDF musical groups. The group broke up in 1964.
In late 1963, agent/producer Abraham "Pashanel" Deshe started Hagashash Hahiver, composed of three members of Hatarnegolim - Poliakov, Yeshayahu "Shaike" Levy and Gavriel "Gavri" Banai. Deshe died of cancer in 2004, at age 78.
Together, Hagashash Hahiver created a unique Israeli comedy group whose jokes and skits acquired cult status and captured the Israeli character at its best and worst.
Levy told Army Radio on Tuesday that he had "lost a brother. There is no other word. We've been together since 1958, and he was part of me. He was a great talent, an outstanding comic actor, and a wonderful friend... The pain is great."
The four men won the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in 2000.
The judges said: "The uniqueness of Hagashash Hahiver is in its two faces: On the one hand, it reflects the life and the culture that were created in Israel during its first 50 years and in the course of wars, immigration absorption and the struggle for its existence. On the other hand, it has taken an active role in shaping this culture, creating its language and sketching its identity."
The judges continued: "Their language, Gashashit, and the images they created broke the walls of the inflexible Hebrew language and became standard idiomatic phrases, so much so that he who doesn't know them doesn't know a large part of the culture that has sprouted here. Phrases such as, 'Drive in peace, the keys are inside,' 'There was an engine?' [referring to a mechanic who cheats a client], 'Israbluff' and many others that became part of our everyday language."
Poliakov and the other members of Hagashash Hahiver played in many classic Israeli films, including Givat Halfon Eina Ona (Halfon Hill Doesn't Answer, 1975), Shlager (The Hit, 1979) and Krav al Hava'ad (The House Committee, 1986), as well as on TV.
In 2000, Poliakov started acting in plays. They included God's Finger, The Return of Moris Shpigelman, The Israeli Family, The Rubber Merchants and Mother Courage.
In recent years, he produced plays and participated in his daughter's TV show, It's All Honey, playing himself, the hypochondriac, famous dad to Yael, Itamar and Ariel, and husband to Shoshana.
Actor Moshe Ivgi, who performed with Poliakov in The Rubber Merchants, told The Jerusalem Post he had been lucky to get to know "this unique person. He was a great actor who was blessed with comic and dramatic qualities, and it was a pleasure to work with him. Poli was a modest and ego-free man, full of love, and I am sure he would have done so much more."
Poliakov's coffin will be brought to Tel Aviv's Cameri Theater at 11 a.m. on Wednesday so the public can pay its respects, with a memorial service at 12. Poliakov will be laid to rest at 2:30 at the cemetery at Kibbutz Einat.
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