What killed Topaz

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 27, 2009
Dudu Topaz

Dudu Topaz

One of the drawbacks of living in a young country is that it is difficult to age well. Few Israeli politicians, generals or rabbis know when it is time to leave the stage and depart graciously. And when they are finally forced off, too many of them remain sniping in the wings.

But the Israeli public suffers from the opposite trait. The flipside of the innovation and creativity that has made Israelis into leaders in technology and research is chronic impatience. Just look at how they elect prime ministers with landslides, only to lose faith in them in a matter of months. Then they flock behind another political messiah who only yesterday was regarded a pariah.

Dudu Topaz, the Israeli TV star who committed suicide last week in jail, suffered from both these ailments.

After making Israelis laugh for almost three decades, there was no longer a place for him in showbusiness as an aging entertainer.

In a different environment he might have developed, over the years, into a national institution, continuing to host television programmes and coming out with new comedy shows. But the public had moved on and lost their taste for him.

He just could not get the message. He was convinced that the people, his people, really loved him for eternity and that the ratings charts were somehow being manipulated to hide the truth. A comfortable early retirement at 60 was simply inconceivable.

But he had sown the seeds of his professional demise years before when, in his frantic need to remain the perennial King of Entertainment, he plumbed new depths of vulgarity. What was once an endearing style of chutzpah, the epitome of that most Israeli characteristic, became tainted by megalomania.

He committed suicide long before he went into that toilet cubicle with the kettle wire. Only he had not realised it at the time. He sent hired muscle to beat up his former agent and the television executives who refused to return him to the limelight.

He planned the same treatment for younger, trendier stars, because he believed that all he had to do was to move them out of his way.

Then there would be nothing between him and the public’s adulation, which he couldn’t live without.

But that was the act that cut him off from the last shred of popularity he still retained.

Even after his arrest, he failed to understand. After his release, he said, he would be back on screen. Reality finally began to sink in following the damning indictment last month. And when he fully realised, it was the end.

    Last updated: 11:40am, August 27 2009