What do the Enterprise-D’s no-nonsense Klingon security officer, and 20th century counter-culture icon Bob Dylan have in common? They both have a father figure in Theodore Bikel. Bikel played Worf’s Belarusian adoptive father Sergey Rozhenko, but also had a long career as a political activist, unionist, and folk singer. Bikel had a ridiculously long and eclectic life, before passing away in 2015 at the age of 91. But in those final years, he barely slowed down, he was the president of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America until 2014, and married his fourth wife in 2013.
Bikel was born in Austria in 1924, and his family fled to Palestine after the German annexation of Austria. He began acting in England, before moving to the United States. In addition to over 150 screen appearances in his life, including one Oscar nomination, for The Defiant Ones in 1959, Bikel was also a delegate at the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention and served as chairman of the board and lecturer for the Partners for a Progressive Israel.
Bikal was able to sing in 21 different languages, including Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Russian, and Zulu. In 1959 he founded the Newport Folk Festival with fellow legendary folk singer Pete Seeger. In 1963, he insisted that the 21-year-old Bob Dylan accompany him and Seeger on tour, and was the first artist other than Dylan to record Blowin’ in the Wind. He even stood up for Dylan’s controversial “electric” set at the 1965 festival, in which Dylan upset many folk purists by playing electric guitar. “Dylan going electric” is now shorthand for a bold and potentially divisive artistic move. But Bikel talked Pete Seeger into allowing Dylan to continue what was possibly the most influential concert of the 20th century.