Azzolina was raised in the Borough of Highlands and attended grammar and high school there. His parents were John and Angelina Giaimi Azzolina, who emigrated to the United States from Sicily during the 1920s. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 at 18 years old and was later enrolled in ROTC at Drew University. Azzolina left the Active Duty Navy in 1947 to serve in the U.S. Navy Reserves, where he eventually earned the rank of Captain. As well as being a politician and businessman, Azzolina also owned The Courier newspaper, in Middletown, which he purchased in 1982 and operated until it closed, in April, 2009.
He also served in the Assembly from 1986 to 1988 and from 1966 to 1972. Azzolina also served in the upper house of the New Jersey Legislature, the New Jersey Senate, from 1972 to 1973. Azzolina served in the Assembly on the State Government Committee.
Azzolina served in the United States Naval Reserve from 1947 to 1986, Captain (ret). As a reservist, he returned to active duty in 1983 for a tour of seven months – four of them off the coast of Lebanon – aboard the battleship USS New Jersey. He received three Meritorious Service Medals and two Navy Secretary Commendation Medals in addition to other combat awards and honors. Assemblyman Azzolina was chairman of the U.S.S. New Jersey Battleship Commission, and led the effort to acquire the retired ship and have it docked in New Jersey waters where it was then transformed into a floating museum.
As an Assemblyman, Azzolina sponsored legislation to provide a $250 property tax deduction for veterans, and a measure creating a model program in Monmouth County that utilizes specially-trained nurses to provide care for and collect forensic evidence from victims of sexual assault. Another measure sponsored by the assemblyman would create a central registry containing records of all persons who have been charged with a crime or offense involved domestic violence. Under the measure, the records would only be released to law enforcement agencies and the courts.
Azzolina died, aged 84, from pancreatic cancer, on April 15, 2010 in Manhattan, New York City. The bridge connecting Sea Bright to Highlands is called the "Captain Joseph Azzolina Memorial Bridge" in his honor.
Each of the forty districts in the New Jersey Legislature has one representative in the New Jersey Senate and two members in the New Jersey General Assembly. The other representatives from the 13th District for the 2004–05 Legislative Session were:
- Penton, Kevin (April 15, 2010). "Former Assemblyman Azzolina dies at age 84". Asbury Park Press.
- "Assemblyman Azzolina's Legislative Website". Archived from the original on December 10, 2004. Retrieved 2005-10-27., New Jersey Legislature. Accessed August 1, 2007.
- Donohue, Joe. "Voters unseat two assemblymen: Handlin beats GOP veteran Azzolina as Epps ousts Democrat Chiappone in primaries", The Star-Ledger, June 8, 2005. Accessed August 1, 2007. "Republicans in the 13th Legislative District, which includes parts of Monmouth and Middlesex counties, ousted Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina. The primary ends the long career of the 79-year-old Azzolina, who first won election in 1966 and has served 24 years in several stints in the lower house. The supermarket owner and Navy veteran lost to Monmouth County Freeholder Amy Handlin after county Republicans dropped him from the ticket earlier this year."
- Sullivan, Joseph F. "POLITICS; Parties Maneuver to Replace 2 Representatives", The New York Times, April 3, 1988. Accessed December 16, 2007. "Before Mr. Howard suffered a fatal heart attack on March 24 – he died the next day – his likely Republican opponent was former Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina of Middletown."