Shaike Ophir, Israel’s foremost mime and one of its leading comic actors and entertainers, died Monday after what was described as a lengthy illness. He was 58 years old. Virtually the entire Israeli press Tuesday described Ophir as the “prince of the Israeli comic stage.”
Friends and colleagues were aware for some time that he was suffering from a terminal illness. The general public might have been aware that something was wrong because of the sudden increase in radio rebroadcasts of his earlier taped performances. Ophir’s friends said Tuesday that a scheduled “Salute to Shaike” gala performance would be held Thursday as planned, in his memory. For many years he performed in New York and Hollywood under the name of Shai K. Ophir.
Ophir was born and raised in an observant Jewish family in the Mea Shearim quarter of Jerusalem and left school at an early age to join the Palmach underground in the years leading up to the 1948 War of Independence.
He was one of the founders of the Army’s first entertainment troupe, the Chizbatron, which first brought him to the stage.
After the war he went to France and studied mime under the great French mimist, Marcel Marceau, returning later to Israel to establish his own mime troupe.
INSPIRATION FOR ISRAELI ENTERTAINERS
Ophir appeared in more than 20 Israeli films and his stage skits were the inspiration for many Israeli entertainers, notably the most popular Hagash Hahiver trio of entertainers for whom he wrote much material.
One of his most popular stage roles was as professor Higgins in the Hebrew version of “My Fair Lady.”
Tributes to Ophir were broadcast from virtually all top politicians and entertainment-world stars. Hundreds of admirers filed past his bier as it lay in state at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv before his internment at the Nachlat Yitzhak Cemetery here Tuesday afternoon.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.