Barney Miller Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Why has "Barney Miller" maintained such a devoted following decades after completing its primetime run on ABC (1975-1982)? The writing, for one: creators Danny Arnold and Theodore J. Flicker and their talented writers (which included "Night Court" creator Reinhold Weege) mined the day-to-day lives of detectives in a fictional New York Police Department precinct for not only sharp, laugh-out-loud humor, but moments of remarkable pathos and empathy. That helped the series add a Peabody Award, given to shows of exceptional quality, to its three Emmys and two Golden Globes. The mix of law and order, chaos and control, and life and death elevated "Barney Miller" above the sitcom crowd and into the realm of something different: a show which entertained as it reflected on the human condition. It's no wonder that the toughest critics of TV cop shows — real-life police officers – loved it.

Of course, one of the show's most crucial elements was its cast, led by stage veteran Hal Linden as the hard-working titular police captain. Barney and his detectives — Fish (Abe Vigoda), Harris (Ron Glass), Stanley "Wojo" Wojciehowicz (Max Gail) — were convincing as cops: they looked unglamorous and overworked, sounded cynical and stressed out, and had deep and real moral cores. Their performances keep "Barney Miller" alive and relevant four decades after it ran its course. Many of the actors, like Linden and Gail, are still with us and working; others are not. Following is a list of "Barney Miller" actors you may not know passed away.

Ron Glass was dapper detective Harris

A series regular for the entire network run of "Barney Miller," Ron Glass played the stylish and savvy Detective (later Sergeant) Ron Nathan Harris, who pursued a literary career with the same zeal with which he ran down criminals. A savage wit with a talent for withering putdowns, Harris finally achieved his dream with the publication of "Blood on the Badge," a hot-blooded tell-all based on his own police career. The experience ultimately turned sour — one of the subjects of the book sued him for libel — but an unbowed Harris was making inroads back to writing by the series' end.

Glass earned a 1982 Emmy nomination for his turn as Harris, and remained a welcome presence on television in the three decades that followed. He earned a new fan base with his role as Shepherd Book on "Firefly" and its sequel film, "Serenity," and was a highlight in episodes of "Friends," the '80s edition of "Twilight Zone," "Star Trek: Voyager," and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Glass, who was a devout Buddhist, died from respiratory failure at the age of 71 on November 25, 2016.

Raise a mug to Jack Soo's Detective Nick Yemana

A recurring gag on the first four seasons of "Barney Miller" was the quality of the precinct's coffee, which could be charitably described as unpalatable. The man responsible for this hi-test brew was Sgt. Nick Yemana, a philosophical detective played by comic and actor Jack Soo, whose dry delivery was a highlight of many episodes.

Born Goro Suzuki in 1917, the Japanese-American Soo worked as a comic and emcee in San Francisco nightclubs prior to World War II; he, along with his family and thousands of other Japanese-Americans, was held at two internment camps during the war years, but returned to comedy and singing after the war. His big break came with the Broadway show "Flower Drum Song," for which he rose from supporting player to lead in 1961. Roles in feature films and television series soon followed, including "M*A*S*H" and "Return to Witch Mountain."

Soo was diagnosed with esophageal cancer during the fourth season of "Barney Miller," and he was forced to take leave from the series after the ninth episode of Season 5, "The Vandal." He died from the disease on January 11, 1979, with a special episode paying tribute to him at the end of Season 5. The retrospective concluded with his castmates raising a cup of coffee as a toast to his talent.

Gregory Sierra's Chano left after 2 seasons

As fans of "Barney Miller" came to learn, the show's cast of regular and recurring actors frequently changed over the series' network run. One of the most popular players to depart the series during its early years was Gregory Sierra, a talented character actor who played Det. Sgt. Miguel "Chano" Amengual from its debut episode until the end of Season 2 in 1976. Chano was a dedicated cop with an emotional side that was showcased in the Season 1 closing episode, "The Hero." In it, Chano struggles to balance praise from his fellow officers for killing two bank robbers in a hostage situation with his own anguished emotions over a life-and-death act.

Sierra, who had been a recurring character on "Sanford and Son" prior to joining the cast of "Barney Miller," as well as a supporting player in films ranging from "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" to "The Towering Inferno," resumed steady work in big screen features and on television after departing the series. He ended his run as Chano to star in "A.E.S. Hudson Street," a medical comedy from "Barney Miller" co-creator Danny Arnold, which was cancelled after five episodes, and captained the squad room on "Miami Vice" for four episodes until he was replaced by Edward James Olmos. Sierra's last screen credit was Orson Welles' long-gestating final feature, "The Other Side of the Wind," which was released in 2018; the 83-year-old actor died January 4, 2021 from stomach and liver cancer.

Steve Landesberg was the brilliant oddball Dietrich

Like several of his "Barney Miller" castmates and recurring players, Steve Landesberg made his debut on the series with a guest appearance as a con man arrested by Wojo in the Season 2 opener, "Doomsday." Eleven episodes later (in "Fish"), he made his debut as Arthur Dietrich, a coolly cerebral and undeniably offbeat cop transferred from the 33rd Precinct to replace a depressed Fish, who was on restricted duty. A semi-regular for the remainder of Seasons 2 and 3, Dietrich became a series regular in Season 4 and remained with the show until its final episode.

Much of Dietrich's character — the deadpan but amiable delivery, the seemingly limitless databank of knowledge — seemed to be drawn from Landesberg's career as a stand-up comic, which began in the late '60s. Guest appearances on TV and in films led to "Barney," for which he received three Emmy nominations. Landesberg maintained a lower profile after the series ran its course, though he provided voices for animated series like "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law" and enjoyed plum character turns in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," among other projects. His final screen credit came with a 2009 episode of "The Cleaner"; Landesberg died the following year from colon cancer at the age of 74 on December 20, 2010.

Ron Carey stood tall as Officer Levitt

Actor-comedian Ron Carey made also his debut on "Barney Miller" not as a cop, but as a crook: he played a burglar who was pursued through the city sewers by Harris and Wojo in the Season 2 finale, "The Mole." Carey then returned in "Quarantine, Pt. 2," the third episode of Season 3, which marked his debut as Officer Carl Levitt. What he lacked in physical stature, Levitt compensated with sheer determination and an unwavering faith in his own abilities, of which he constantly reminded Barney as a means of gaining promotion to detective. It took Levitt five more seasons to make the grade as sergeant, which came in the series finale.

Carey, who was born Ronald Cicenia, began his career in the same manner as co-stars Jack Soo and Steve Landesberg: as a stand-up comic. He worked his way up from the New York club circuit to appearances on variety and talk shows and eventual feature and TV roles. "Barney Miller" was his breakout project, and it led to steady work with Mel Brooks in "High Anxiety" and "History of the World, Part 1," as well as several TV commercials. Carey's screen career waned after "Miller" ran its course in 1982; he worked in several Italian comedies and TV series, and was briefly top-billed in his own sitcom, "Have Faith," which ran for a half-season in 1989. Carey died of complications from a stroke at the age of 71 on January 16, 2007.

Abe Vigoda's Fish was an unlikely breakout star

Abe Vigoda had been working steadily, if near-anonymously, on the New York stage and the occasional television series (including a handful of appearances on "Dark Shadows") from the mid-1940s until 1972, when he was cast as the doomed mobster Tessio in "The Godfather." The popularity of the film boosted his screen profile and led to his star-making role as Detective Phil Fish on "Barney Miller."

On paper, Fish seems like the least likely stan candidate: an aged, downtrodden cop with a litany of physical complaints (many of Fish's "Miller" gags were based around trips to the bathroom) and a demeanor that made Eeyore seem sunny. But Vigoda found the humor and pathos in the character, and Fish became the runaway hit of the series, with three Emmy nods in his first three seasons. Fish retired from the precinct in Season 4 in order for Vigoda to star in a spin-off series, "Fish," which found him caring for a group of foster children. The show lasted two seasons.

Vigoda never achieved the same degree of fame after "Barney Miller"; his career was relegated to supporting roles in features like "Cannonball Run II" and "Look Who's Talking," along with guest shots on dozens of TV series. He was perhaps better known for a ceaseless running gag about the fact that he wasn't dead yet. Vigoda appeared to take the joke in stride, and in fact, outlasted most predictions about his demise until January 2, 2016, when the 94-year-old actor died in his sleep from natural causes.

James Gregory played old-school detective Luger

Though he clearly viewed himself as a sage, experienced figure, Inspector Frank Luger's appearances at the 12th Precinct were noted more for their disruptive qualities. An old-school cop with a decidedly backwards approach to police work, Luger, who was Barney's superior officer, attempted to impart wisdom through folksy recollections of his own days as a beat cop and detective. Invariably, these "remember-when" sessions turned gruesome or got jumbled up in the inspector's mind; more often than not, they caused him to get weepy over how much he loved his long-gone and equally hard-nosed former partners. For Barney and the others, it was best to just let Luger ramble on.

Character actor James Gregory stole virtually every scene in which he appeared as Luger, who recurred throughout the series' network run. The gravel-voiced Gregory had played hard-nosed types for decades prior to appearing on "Barney": he had been a scheming senator in "The Manchurian Candidate," a psychiatrist using mind control on patients in "Dagger of the Mind" from Season 1 of "Star Trek: The Original Series," and the menacing General Ursus in "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," among many other film and TV appearances.

Gregory, whose long list of credits also included sympathetic roles on "The Twilight Zone," "F Troop" and a recurring turn as President Ulysses S. Grant on "The Wild, Wild West," died at the age of 90 at his home in Sedona, Arizona on September 16, 2002.

Barney's baddest was George Murdock's Lt. Scanlon

One of the toughest characters on "Barney Miller" wasn't a criminal, but rather, a cop with a zeal for tearing down the men and women of the 12th Precinct. Lt. Ben Scanlon hailed from the New York Police Department's Internal Affairs division, and investigated alleged improprieties by fellow officers. Scanlon, however, took not only a hardline approach to these cases, but appeared to relish the opportunity to put Barney and others in the hot seat.

Invariably, though, his efforts were thwarted by his own single-mindedness and the detectives' clever minds. Case in point: his attempt to root out graft accusations with a lie detector test in Season 5's "Voice Analyzer," which is defeated by Harris's unflappable cool and Dietrich's bemused assertion than he's an alien, and therefore unable to reveal emotion.

Character actor George Murdock played Scanlon in 11 episodes of "Barney Miller," which marked only a fraction of his long film and TV careers. His credits included "The Twilight Zone," "Night Gallery," "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Seinfeld," though he might be best remembered as life-sciences officer Dr. Salik on the original "Battlestar Galactica," or as the Second Elder on multiple episodes of "The X-Files." Murdock also played the God entity in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier." He made his final TV appearance in "Miracle Day: Dead of Night" from Season 4 of "Torchwood" in 2011; Murdock died the following year on April 30 at the age of 81.

Don Calfa was arrested seven different times on "Barney Miller"

Forever enshrined in zombie movie history as jittery mortician Ernie Kaltenbrunner in 1985's "Return of the Living Dead," character actor Don Calfa also appeared in numerous other features and television series, including seven episodes of "Barney Miller." Calfa played a different perpetrator in each appearance — among them, a deranged bomber in Season 3's "Group Home," a desperate repeat offender who locks the detectives in a holding cell in Season 4's "Hostage" (directed by Hal Linden), and a former master thief whose hold-up attempt is undone by his recent brain surgery in Season 6's "The Desk." Calfa's talent for comic delivery and off-kilter characters made each appearance memorable.

The Brooklyn-born Calfa made his screen debut in experimental comedy features by Robert Downey Sr., including 1972's "Greaser's Palace," before moving into mainstream TV and features in the 1970s. His feature credits include collaborations with Martin Scorsese ("New York, New York"), Steven Spielberg ("1941") and Peter Bogdanovich ("Nickelodeon"), but it was "Return of the Living Dead" for which he was most widely known. Calfa died from natural causes at his home in Yucca Valley, California, on December 1, 2016, two days before his 77th birthday.

Jack DeLeon: a sympathetic scene-stealer

Comedian turned actor Jack DeLeon made eight appearances on "Barney Miller" as Marty Morrison, a gay man who found himself at odds with or in need of the 12th Precinct detectives at various times. He's busted for theft on several occasions, including Season 1's "The Guest," where he's nabbed for stealing a suitcase. In later episodes, Marty calls on Barney in Season 2's "Discovery" to aid him and his partner, Mr. Driscoll (Ray Stewart), with a harassment case involving a cop, and in Season 6's "The Child Stealers," when Driscoll takes extreme measures to see his son. While the portrayal of Marty and Driscoll is broad by current TV standards — and Wojo's confusion over their orientation is occasionally cringe-worthy – both are treated by the show's writers as people, not caricatures, which is notable for '70s TV.

In addition to guest roles like Marty, DeLeon was a prolific voice-over actor for animated projects, including the Rankin-Bass adaptation of "The Hobbit," the 1967 "Fantastic Four" series, and the 1981 "Spider-Man" series, for which he voiced Kraven the Hunter. DeLeon, who also performed under the name Christopher Weeks, died at the age of 81 from complications of heart and kidney disease on October 16, 2006.

Two actresses played Fish's wife, Bernice

When the producers of "Barney Miller" decided to give viewers a look at Fish's life outside the precinct, Florence Stanley, a veteran of Broadway and television, was tapped to play his long-suffering wife, Bernice. She appeared in seven episodes — save for Season 2's "Fish," which also introduced Steve Landesberg as Detective Dietrich. In that episode, Fish is placed on restricted duty and returns to his apartment for lunch. Dietrich follows him there and is introduced to Bernice, who was played by Doris Belack of "Law and Order" fame. Stanley would also reprise Bernice opposite Vigoda in the short-lived spin-off series "Fish," which aired for two seasons in 1977 and 1978.

Stanley's distinctive gravel tones made her a natural for animated projects after "Barney" and "Fish," and she contributed voices to "Dinosaurs" and "Family Guy," among other shows. She also worked steadily in live-action projects, including recurring roles on "My Two Dads" (which she also directed), Warren Beatty's "Bulworth" and "Down With Love." Stanley died at the age of 79 due to complications from a stroke on October 3, 2009.

Richard Libertini brought the weird to Barney Miller

Eccentrics seemed to be actor Richard Libertini's specialty. The Boston-born actor's best-known film and TV roles were personalities that were often just orbiting reality, like his deluded Latin American dictator in "The In-Laws," and the accident-prone holy man ("Back in bowl!") in "All of Me." That's also an apt description for Libertini's three appearances on "Barney Miller": he played a numerology-obsessed man named 1223 in Season 4's "Evaluation," a middle-aged Olympic hopeful who nearly skewers an elderly lady with his javelin, and a man claiming to be a time traveler in "The Child Stealers." Libertini's boundless enthusiasm made each appearance memorable.

Libertini played a wide range of offbeat roles throughout his career, including turns in "Popeye," "Fletch" (as Chevy Chase's editor), and "Awakenings," among many other projects, and was a member of the famed Second City improvisational troupe. He died of cancer at the age of 82 at his home in Venice, California on January 7, 2016.

Doris Roberts was a five-time guest star

Though perhaps best remembered as Marie Barone on "Everybody Loves Raymond," Doris Roberts amassed a staggering list of film, stage, and television credits over the course of her half-century-plus career. Her TV output in the 1970s alone includes guest shots on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Rhoda," "Soap," and five appearances on "Barney Miller" in two different roles.

For her debut in Season 3's "Sex Surrogate," she played a woman who shoots her husband for visiting a sex clinic, and then returned the following year for the first of four turns as the harried Harriet Brauer, whose frustrations with husband Philip (Peter Hobbs) drove her to extremes. She had him arrested for liquidating their assets in Season 4's "The Sighting," and then lodged complaints against him for becoming a mercenary (the Season 5 two-parter "Wojo's Girl") and a nudist (Season 7's "Agent Orange").

A five-time Emmy winner (for "Raymond" and an appearance on "St. Elsewhere"), Roberts died on April 17, 2016 following a stroke at the age of 90.

Leonard Stone did damage control in five episodes

Forever enshrined in pop culture history as the father of Violet Beauregarde in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," Leonard Stone was a near-ubiquitous face on TV from the 1950s to the mid-2000s. "Barney Miller" fans knew him for five appearances on the series between 1975 and 1982. He was frequently cast as management types called in to smooth over problems caused by their employees: a school vice principal with a suicidal history teacher in Season 4's "Tunnel," or the boss of mailman Stuart Pankin, who is arrested for non-delivery of mail for eight years in "Uniform Day" from Season 6.

Stone, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London after serving in World War II, was a repeat performer on dozens of other shows, from "Lost in Space" to "Alice" and "L.A. Law." He logged his final screen appearance in the TV movie "Surrender, Dorothy" in 2006, and died five years later on November 2, 2011, just one day before his 88th birthday.