Danny Aiello

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Danny Aiello
Aiello in New York City, December 2011
Daniel Louis Aiello Jr.

(1933-06-20)June 20, 1933
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 12, 2019(2019-12-12) (aged 86)
Years active1973–2019
Sandy Cohen
(m. 1955)
Children4, including Danny Aiello III and Rick Aiello
RelativesMichael Kay (nephew)

Daniel Louis Aiello Jr. (/ˈɛl/) (June 20, 1933[1] – December 12, 2019) was an American actor. He appeared in numerous motion pictures, including The Godfather Part II (1974), The Front (1976), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Hide in Plain Sight (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Moonstruck (1987), Harlem Nights (1989), Do the Right Thing (1989), Jacob's Ladder (1990), Hudson Hawk (1991), Ruby (1992), Léon: The Professional (1994), 2 Days in the Valley (1996), Dinner Rush (2000), and Lucky Number Slevin (2006). He played Don Domenico Clericuzio in the miniseries The Last Don (1997).

Aiello was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Salvatore "Sal" Frangione in the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing (1989).

Early life[edit]

Aiello, the fifth of six children, was born on West 68th Street, Manhattan,[2] the son of parents Frances Pietrocova, a seamstress from Naples, Italy, and Daniel Louis Aiello, a laborer who deserted the family after his wife lost her eyesight and became legally blind.[3] For many years, Aiello publicly condemned his father, but the two reconciled in 1993, although Aiello harbored a resentment of his father's conduct.[4][5] He was of Italian descent.[6] He moved to the South Bronx when he was seven, and later attended James Monroe High School.[5]

At the age of 16, Aiello lied about his age to enlist in the United States Army. After serving for three years, he returned to New York City and did various jobs in order to support himself and, later, his family.[7][8]

In the 1960s, Aiello served as president of New York Local 1202 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, representing Greyhound Bus workers. In 1967, he presided over an unsanctioned wildcat strike when the company changed bus driver schedules.[9] The strike was called without authorization by the parent union and he was suspended for that action. He called off the strike after one day.[10]

He was also a bouncer at the legendary New York City comedy club, The Improv.[11] In the mid-1980s, he was a nightly regular at Café Central, a bistro frequented by celebrities on 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, in Manhattan, and at an eatery named Columbus restaurant on 66th Street and Columbus Avenue.[12]


With actress Estelle Parsons in 1977

Film and television[edit]

Aiello broke into films in the early 1970s. One of his earliest roles came as a ballplayer in the baseball drama, Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), with Robert De Niro. Aiello had a walk-on role as small-time hood Tony Rosato in The Godfather Part II (1974), ad-libbing the line "Michael Corleone says hello!" during a hit on rival gangster Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo).[13]

Aiello had a co-lead role with Jan-Michael Vincent in Defiance (1980), about some Manhattan residents who fight back against the thugs terrorizing the neighborhood. He received considerable acclaim for playing a racist New York City cop in Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981) with Paul Newman. In 1981, Aiello won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in Children's Programming for his appearance in an ABC Afterschool Special called A Family of Strangers.[14]

He was paired with De Niro again for the Sergio Leone gangster epic, Once Upon a Time in America (1984), as a police chief whose name was also "Aiello." His many film appearances included two for director Woody Allen, who cast him in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Radio Days (1987).[15] He played a main role in the 1985-86 television series Lady Blue.[16]

Aiello played the pizzeria owner Sal in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989). At the time of the film's release, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, he called the role his "first focal part". He further identified the film as a very collaborative effort, during which Spike Lee at one point told him, "Whatever you wanna do, you do." Aiello went on to write a crucial scene he shared with John Turturro ten minutes prior to its production.[17] The role earned him nominations for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, while the film critics' associations of Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles each named him best supporting actor.[18]

Aiello also portrayed more sympathetic characters. He gained recognition as the befuddled fiancé of Cher opposite her Oscar-winning performance in the romantic comedy Moonstruck (1987), and made a comic appearance in drag for the Robert Altman fashion-industry film Prêt-à-Porter (1994).[19] He also had sympathetic roles in the horror thriller Jacob's Ladder (1990) and the comedy-drama 29th Street (1991).

Aiello played nightclub owner and Lee Harvey Oswald assassin Jack Ruby in the biopic Ruby (1992), the lead role in Paul Mazursky's film business satire The Pickle (1993), the titular character in the Academy Award-winning short film Lieberman in Love (1995), and a political big shot with mob ties in City Hall (1996), starring Al Pacino. He later starred in the independent feature film Dolly Baby (2012), written and directed by Kevin Jordan; Aiello also starred in Jordan's Brooklyn Lobster, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005.[20]


Aiello's singing was on display in films such as Hudson Hawk (1991), Once Around (1991), and Remedy (2005) that starred his son Ricky Aiello and Jonathan Doscher. He released several albums featuring a big-band including I Just Wanted to Hear The Words (2004), Live from Atlantic City (2008), and My Christmas Song for You (2010). Aiello and EMI songwriter Hasan Johnson released an album of standards fused with rap entitled Bridges in 2011.[21]

He played the father for the video of Madonna's song, "Papa Don't Preach" (1986), and recorded his own answer song, "Papa Wants the Best for You", written by Artie Schroeck.[22]


Aiello appeared on the Broadway stage many times throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He appeared in three plays by Louis La Russo II: Lamppost Reunion (his Broadway debut - 1975), Wheelbarrow Closers (1976), and Knockout (1979). In 1977, he originated the role of Fran Geminiani in the long-running play Gemini.[23]

In 1981, Aiello starred in Woody Allen's play The Floating Light Bulb alongside Beatrice Arthur. The play, set in 1945, is a semi-autobiographical tale of a lower middle class family living in Brooklyn, New York City. Frank Rich, critic from The New York Times gave the play a mild review, writing "there are a few laughs, a few well-wrought characters, and, in Act II, a beautifully written scene that leads to a moving final curtain". Rich also compared the play to the work of Tennessee Williams.[24]

In the mid-1980s, Aiello starred in a replacement cast version of Hurlyburly (1984) alongside Christine Baranski, Frank Langella, Ron Silver, and Candice Bergen. He also starred in The House of Blue Leaves (1986) alongside John Mahoney (who earned a Tony Award for his performance), Ben Stiller, Stockard Channing, and Julie Hagerty[25]

In 2002, Aiello starred in Elaine May's comedic play, Adult Entertainment alongside May's daughter, Jeannie Berlin. The play was directed by Stanley Donen and opened off-broadway at the Variety Arts Theatre. Critic Ben Brantley of The New York Times, described the play as an "often very funny, but overstretched comedy sketch".[26]

In July 2011, Aiello appeared Off-Broadway in the two-act drama The Shoemaker, written by Susan Charlotte and directed by Antony Marsellis. The play is a stage version of his 2006 movie A Broken Sole, which began life in 2001 as a one-act play.[27]

Personal life[edit]

Aiello lived in Ramsey, New Jersey, for many years with his wife, Sandy Cohen, whom Aiello married in 1955.[28] He later moved to Saddle River, New Jersey.[29]

In 2014, Aiello published his autobiography, I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else: My Life on the Street, on the Stage, and in the Movies via Simon & Schuster.[30] He was the father of stuntman and actor Danny Aiello III, who died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer.[31] Another son Rick, who was also an actor, died in 2021 of the same disease. His surviving children are Jaime, and Stacey Aiello.[14] His nephew is Michael Kay, broadcaster for the New York Yankees.[32]


Aiello died on December 12, 2019, at age 86, at a hospital in New Jersey, following a brief illness.[18][33]

Many in the entertainment industry voiced their sadness either on Twitter or released statements, such as his Moonstruck co-star Cher, and Robert De Niro, who starred alongside Aiello in four films: Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), The Godfather Part II (1974), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), and Mistress (1992). De Niro wrote, "I am very saddened to hear of Danny's passing. I have known him for almost 50 years. See you in Heaven, Danny."[34]



Year Title Role Notes
1973 Bang the Drum Slowly Horse
1974 The Godfather Part II Tony Rosato
1975 The Godmothers Uncredited
1976 The Front Danny LaGattuta
1977 Hooch Tony
1978 Fingers Butch
1978 Bloodbrothers Artie Di Falco
1980 Defiance Carmine
1980 Hide in Plain Sight Sal Carvello
1981 Fort Apache, The Bronx Morgan
1981 Chu Chu and the Philly Flash Johnson
1983 Blood Feud Randy Powers
1984 Old Enough Mr. Bruckner
1984 Once Upon a Time in America Police Chief Vincent Aiello
1984 Broadway Danny Rose Uncredited
1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo Monk
1985 The Stuff Vickers
1985 The Protector Danny Garoni
1985 Key Exchange Carabello
1987 Radio Days Rocco
1987 Man on Fire Conti
1987 The Pick-up Artist Phil Harper
1987 Moonstruck Johnny Cammareri
1988 The Third Solution George Sherman
1989 The January Man Captain Vincent Alcoa
1989 White Hot Charlie Buick
1989 Do the Right Thing Salvatore "Sal" Fragione
1989 Shocktroop John Cunningham
1989 Harlem Nights Phil Cantone
1990 Jacob's Ladder Louis
1990 The Closer Chester Grant
1990 He Ain't Heavy Short
1991 Once Around Joe Bella
1991 Hudson Hawk Tommy "Five-Tone" Messina
1991 29th Street Frank Pesce Sr.
1992 Deathmask Capt. Mike Grasso
1992 Ruby Jack Ruby
1992 Mistress Carmine Rasso
1993 The Cemetery Club Ben Katz
1993 The Pickle Harry Stone
1993 Me and the Kid Harry
1994 Léon: The Professional Tony
1994 Prêt-à-Porter Major Hamilton
1994 Save the Rabbits Ronnie
1995 Power of Attorney Joseph Scassi
1995 Lieberman in Love Joe Lieberman Short
1995 Two Much Gene
1996 City Hall Frank Anselmo
1996 2 Days in the Valley Dosmo Pizzo
1996 Mojave Moon Al
1997 Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis Mr. Rathbone
1997 A Brooklyn State of Mind Danny Parente
1998 Wilbur Falls Phillip Devereaux
1999 18 Shades of Dust Vincent Dianni
2000 Mambo Café Joey
2000 Dinner Rush Louis Cropa
2000 Prince of Central Park Noah Cairn
2001 Off Key Fabrizio Bernini
2003 Mail Order Bride Tony Santini
2004 Zeyda and the Hitman Nathan
2005 The Fool Voice of the Dummy Short
2005 Brooklyn Lobster Frank Giorgio
2006 Lucky Number Slevin Roth
2006 Last Request Pop
2006 A Broken Sole The Shoemaker
2010 Stiffs Frank Tramontana
2013 Dolly Baby Tony Lanza
2014 Henry & Me Dr. Acosta Voice
2014 Reach Me Father Paul
2017 The Neighborhood Joseph Donatello
2018 Little Italy Carlo
2019 The Last Big Save Louis Brown
2019 Making a Deal With The Devil Mario
2021 One Moment Joe McGuinness Posthumous release; Final film role
TBA Hereafter Musical Jason Short


Year Title Role Notes
1976 Kojak Mattie Episode: "Black Thorn"
1977 The Andros Targets Lt. Phil Lombardi 3 episodes
1978 On Our Own Skip Mazarelli 2 episodes
1978 The Last Tenant Carl TV film
1978 Lovey: A Circle Of Children, Part II Bernie Serino TV film
1980 A Family of Strangers Dominic Ginetti ABC Afterschool Special
1982 Gemini Fran TV film
1982 Nurse Gene Halley Episode: "Gene Halley"
1982 The Unforgivable Secret Frank Caruso ABC Afterschool Special
1982 A Question of Honor Martelli TV film
1983 3-2-1 Contact Florist Episode: "Babies: Growth and Development"
1984 Tales from the Darkside Tommy Vale Episode: "The Odds"
1985 The Lucie Arnaz Show Vic Rosetti Episode: "Good Sports"
1985–1986 Lady Blue Lt. Terry McNichols 14 episodes
1987 Saturday Night Live Master of Ceremonies Episode: "Charlton Heston/Wynton Marsalis"
1987 Daddy Coach Jacobs TV film
1987 Night Heat Frankie D. Episode: "Comeback"
1988 Alone In The Neon Jungle Chief TV film
1989 The Preppie Murder Det. Mike Sheehan TV film
1990 Madonna: The Immaculate Collection Papa Segment: "Papa Don't Preach"
1992 The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980 Tony Rosato TV reruns
1995 Brothers' Destiny (aka The Road Home) Duke TV film
1996 Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook Narrator Documentary
1996 Saturday Night Live Himself (host) Episode: "Danny Aiello/Coolio"
1997 The Last Don Don Domenico Clericuzio TV mini-series
1997–1998 Dellaventura Anthony Dellaventura 14 episodes
1998 The Last Don II Don Domenico Clericuzio TV mini-series
2009 Harry: A Communication Breakdown Narrator Documentary
2017 Broken Dreams Blvd Teddy Berry TV film
2017 Difficult People Danny Aiello (voice) Episode: "Passover Bump"


Year Title Role Venue
1944 Follow the Girls Dancing Boy New Century Theatre, Broadway
1975 Lamppost Reunion Biggie Little Theatre, Broadway
1976 Wheelbarrow Closers Chester Grant Bijou Theatre, Broadway
1977 Gemini Fran Geminiani Little Theatre, Broadway
1979 Knockout Damie Ruffino Helen Hayes Theatre, Broadway
1981 The Floating Light Bulb Max Pollack Vivian Beaumont Theater, Broadway
1985 Hurlyburly Phil (replacement) Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway
1986 The House of Blue Leaves Billy Einhorn Plymouth Theatre, Broadway
2002 Adult Entertainment Guy Aikens Variety Arts Theatre, Off Broadway
2011 The Shoemaker Performer Acorn Theatre, Off-Broadway
2017 Home for the Holidays Performer August Wilson Theatre, Broadway


Year Award Category Title Result Ref.
1981 Daytime Emmy Award Performer in a Children's Program ABC Afterschool Special:
A Family of Strangers
1989 Academy Award Best Supporting Actor Do the Right Thing Nominated [18]
Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actor - Film [14]
Boston Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actor Won [18]
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor [14]
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor [18]
1991 Chicago Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Once Around Nominated
1994 National Board of Review Best Ensemble Prêt-à-Porter Won


  • Aiello, Danny (2014). I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else: My Life on the Street, On the Stage, and in the Movies. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781476751924.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Danny Aiello, 'Do the Right Thing' and 'Moonstruck' Actor, Dies at 86". The Hollywood Reporter. December 13, 2019. Archived from the original on July 28, 2021.
  2. ^ Danny AIELLO profile Archived February 16, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, International Who's Who. accessed September 1, 2006.
  3. ^ https://www.myheritage.it/names/frances_pietrocova [bare URL]
  4. ^ Michael Norman (January 21, 1990). "His Bus Came In". The New York Times.
  5. ^ a b Danny Aiello Biography, Yahoo; accessed June 21, 2017, Archived from the original on May 22, 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Lip, Tony; Prigge, Steven (October 3, 2006). Shut Up and Eat!: Mangia with Family Recipes and Stories from Your Favorite Italian-American Stars. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 9780425211779 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Succeeding: Overcoming the Odds. Prestwick House. 2005. pp. 61–62. ISBN 9781580493093. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  8. ^ Carrick, Jim (June 17, 2015). "Million served in WWII". The Spectrum. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  9. ^ "Greyhound Walkout Spreading". Press and Sun-Bulletin. Binghamton, N.Y. Associated Press. June 21, 1967. p. 49. Retrieved December 14, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ "Greyhound Drivers End 1-Day Strike". Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Evening News, Wilkes-Barre Record. Associated Press. June 23, 1967. p. 14. Retrieved December 14, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ Bailey-Millado, Rob (December 13, 2019). "How Danny Aiello went from 'part-time thief' to 'Do the Right Thing'". New York Post. Retrieved December 14, 2019.
  12. ^ Aiello, Danny (2014). I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else: My Life on the Street, On the Stage, and in the Movies. Simon and Schuster. pp. 175, 228. ISBN 9781476751924. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  13. ^ Middleton, Faith (November 10, 2014). "Actor Danny Aiello, The Godfather, and Madonna". wnpr.org. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d Carcaterra, Lorenzo (February 19, 1990). "Danny Aiello". PEOPLE.com. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  15. ^ "Danny Aiello". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
  16. ^ Reesman, Bryan (June 30, 2017). "Analog Gems: Jamie Rose Talks 'Lady Blue' on ABC". New York Observer. Archived from the original on December 26, 2017.
  17. ^ Emerson, Jim (July 7, 1989). "Danny Aiello Is 'The Jackie Robinson of Spike Lee Movies'". Chicago Tribune.
  18. ^ a b c d e Gates, Anita (December 13, 2019). "Danny Aiello, Actor in 'Do the Right Thing,' Dies at 86". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 25, 1994). "Ready To Wear (Prêt-à-Porter) movie review (1994) | Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com.
  20. ^ Hamill, Denis (October 30, 2005). "LOVE & LOBSTERS. A family drama tells the true story of a Sheepshead Bay seafood firm under threat". NY Daily News. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  21. ^ Bridges (Media notes). Danny Aiello. CD Baby. September 27, 2011. ASIN B005SI4MSA.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  22. ^ Liz Smith, "Papa Gets Second Chance In New Video", Sarasota Herald-Tribune (October 22, 1986), 5E.
  23. ^ "Danny Aiello – Broadway Cast & Staff | IBDB". www.ibdb.com. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  24. ^ Rich, Frank (April 28, 1981). "Stage: 'Light Bulb,' by Woody Allen". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  25. ^ "The House of Blue Leaves - 1986 Broadway Tickets, News, Info, Photos, Videos". www.broadwayworld.com. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  26. ^ Brantley, Ben (December 12, 2002). "THEATER REVIEW; Is She a Serious Actress? XXXtremely". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  27. ^ Lee, Felicia R. (July 23, 2011). "A Word With: Danny Aiello. Emotional Guy, Speaking for Others". The New York Times.
  28. ^ Golden, Tim. "FILM; Danny Aiello Journeys Along The Blue-Collar Road to Stardom", The New York Times, February 10, 1991. Accessed January 23, 2008. "Though friends say he is cashing paychecks of close to $1 million, Mr. Aiello and his wife, Sandy, live in the same split-level house in Ramsey, N.J., that they bought a decade ago for $125,000."
  29. ^ Andrea Adams, Saddle River, The Star-Ledger, April 28, 2005; "Last year, instead of amusements during the day, Saddle River Night featured a band concert by a 40-piece orchestra, as well as the family-style picnic and a special treat: Saddle River resident Danny Aiello sang a few songs after the band concert."
  30. ^ ""DANNY AIELLO" Book Results on Simon & Schuster". www.simonandschuster.com.
  31. ^ "Passings: Danny Aiello III". Los Angeles Times. May 4, 2010.
  32. ^ Abrahams, Matthew (February 13, 2011). "Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay marries news anchor Jodi Applegate". nypost.com.
  33. ^ "Danny Aiello, 'Do the Right Thing' and 'Moonstruck' Actor, Dies at 86". Variety. December 13, 2019. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  34. ^ Fernandez, Alexia (December 13, 2019). "Robert De Niro Mourns Death of Former Costar Danny Aiello: 'See You in Heaven'". PEOPLE.com. Retrieved February 2, 2020.

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