March 10, 1937
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 28, 2004
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Catherine Brennan (19??–2004; his death)|
Viterelli was born in New York and grew up in a tough neighborhood on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He played classical guitar but did not tell his friends about it. "They woulda thought I was a sissy," he said. "I used to save my hard-robbed money and sneak off to Carnegie Hall and Broadway theaters."
While in his 20s, he inherited four music schools in Queens that had been started by his family. "I actually taught classical guitar. But things went wrong. Then I opened a few bars. I drove a truck. I owned a cleaning service. I even had a job drilling holes in bowling balls to feed my five kids."
Viterelli moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s. While living in Malibu, Viterelli became friends with director Leo Penn, who saw the screen possibilities in Viterelli's tough-guy visage. Penn thought Viterelli's tough-guy features would play well in the movies and on television.
"(Leo Penn) asked me to be in some movies and TV, but I always declined," said Viterelli. "I said, 'For half my life, I've been keeping a low profile and now you want to put my mug on a 40-foot screen?'"
Years later, Viterelli got a call from Penn's actor son, Sean, who was in New York City to make the 1990 gangster melodrama State of Grace. Viterelli recalled: "(Sean) said, 'Joe, we're looking for a character that's from your neighborhood. We've seen about 50 to 60 people and nobody's right.' He said the key words, 'Would you do me a favor?'" Viterelli did and, proving to be a natural actor, launched his new career. Viterelli later appeared in Penn's The Crossing Guard (1995).
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Viterelli had appeared in more than 40 movies, playing guys with such names as Nick Valenti (Bullets over Broadway; 1994), Joe Profaci (Mobsters; 1991), Fat Tommy Carducci (What She Doesn't Know; 1992), Vinnie "The Shrimp" (Mickey Blue Eyes; 1999) and Fat Tony Ragoni (The Cure for Boredom; 2001). He also had a supporting role in Shallow Hal (2001) and played Joseph Valachi in Ruby (1992). He has also appeared in Eraser (1996).
In 1999, he played Jelly, the menacing yet lovable henchman-confidant to Robert De Niro's anxiety-prone mob boss in Analyze This (1999), costarring Billy Crystal as De Niro's reluctant psychiatrist.
When he described Viterelli's Jelly character patiently padding about "trying to deal with the disturbing news that his boss is cracking up and seeing a shrink," critic Roger Ebert wrote, "He lends a subtle dimension to the movie; he gives [De Niro's mob boss] a context, and someone who understands him. The comedy here isn't all on the surface, and Viterelli is one reason why."
Viterelli can be seen in a Staples television commercial in which he provides mob-style "muscle" for an office worker who is having a problem dealing with a manager who demands doughnuts and pastry bribes in exchange for dispensing office supplies. The humorous spot, which debuted during Super Bowl XXXVIII, was Viterelli's only commercial.
Personal life and death
Viterelli, a West Los Angeles resident, died on January 29, 2004 of complications from heart surgery at Valley Hospital in Las Vegas. He is survived by his wife, Catherine, and five children, including his son, the film composer Joseph Vitarelli, who spells his last name differently.
- 2002 - Analyze That .... Jelly
- 2001 - See Spot Run .... Gino
- 2001 - Shallow Hal ... Steve Shanahan
- 2000 - Wannabes .... Santo
- 1999 - Mickey Blue Eyes .... Vinnie D'Agostino
- 1999 - Analyze This .... Jelly
- 1998 - Mafia!....Dominick Clamatto
- 1996 - Heaven's Prisoners ....
- 1996 - Eraser .... Tony Two-Toes
- 1995 - The Crossing Guard .... Joe at bar
- 1994 - Bullets Over Broadway .... Nick Valenti
- 1993 - The Firm .... Joey Morolto
- 1991 - Mobsters ... Joe Profaci
- 1990 - State of Grace .... Borelli
- McLellan, Dennis (23 February 2004). "Joe Viterelli, 66; Actor's Mobster Look Won Him More Than 40 Film Roles". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- "Joe Viterelli, 66, Actor Who Played Lovable Tough Guys". The New York Times. 25 February 2004. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- Simith, Barad (24 February 2004). "Joe Viterelli, Jelly From 'Analyze This,' Dies". Democratic Underground. Retrieved 11 April 2015.