Danny Aiello

Daniel Louis Aiello Jr. (/ˈɛl/; June 20, 1933 – December 12, 2019)[1] was an American actor who 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). Aiello appeared in numerous motion pictures, including The Godfather Part II (1974), The Front (1976), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Moonstruck (1987), Harlem Nights (1989), 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).

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

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

Early life

Aiello, the fifth of six children, was born on West 68th Street, Manhattan,[2] the son of parents, Frances Pietrocova, a seamstress, and Daniel Louis Aiello, a laborer, who deserted the family after his wife had lost her eyesight and became legally blind. For many years, Aiello publicly condemned his father, but the two reconciled in 1993, although Aiello harbored a resentment of his father's conduct.[1][3][4] He was of Italian descent.[5] He moved to the South Bronx when he was seven, and later attended James Monroe High School.[4]

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.[6][7]

In the 1960s, Aiello served as president of New York Local 1202 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, representing for Greyhound Bus workers. In 1967, he presided over an unsanctioned wildcat strike when the company changed bus driver schedules.[8] 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.[9]

He also was a bouncer at the legendary New York City comedy club, The Improv.[10] 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.[11]

Acting and music career

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).[12]

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 his appearance in an ABC Afterschool Special called A Family of Strangers.[13]

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).[14] He played a main role in the 1985-86 television series Lady Blue.

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.[15] The role earned him nominations for a Golden Globe Award 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.[16]

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).[17] He also had sympathetic roles in the horror thriller Jacob's Ladder (1990) and the comedy-drama 29th Street (1991).[18]

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.[19]


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.[20]

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.[21]


Aiello's Broadway theatre credits include Gemini, The Floating Light Bulb, Hurlyburly, and The House of Blue Leaves.[16] He also was in the 1976 Broadway play Wheelbarrow Closers, directed by Paul Sorvino.

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.[22]

Personal life and death

Aiello lived in Ramsey, New Jersey, for many years.[23] He later moved to Saddle River, New Jersey.[24]

He was the father of stuntman and actor Danny Aiello III, who died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer.[25] His surviving children are Rick, Jaime, and Stacey Aiello.[13]

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.[26]

His nephew is Michael Kay, broadcaster for the New York Yankees.[27]

Aiello died on December 12, 2019, at the age of 86 at a hospital in New Jersey, following a brief illness.[16][28]



Year Title Award Result
1981 ABC Afterschool Special Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in Children's Programming
Season 9, Episode 1: "A Family of Strangers"[13]
1989 Do the Right Thing Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor[16] Nominated
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture[13]
BSFC Award for Best Supporting Actor[16] Won
LAFCA Award for Best Supporting Actor[13]
CFCA Award for Best Supporting Actor[16]
1991 Once Around CFCA Award for Best Supporting Actor Nominated
1994 Prêt-à-Porter National Board of Review Award for Best Cast 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


  1. Danny Aiello Biography, filmreference.com; accessed June 21, 2017.
  2. Danny AIELLO profile, International Who's Who. accessed September 1, 2006.
  3. Michael Norman (January 21, 1990). "His Bus Came In". The New York Times.
  4. Danny Aiello Biography, Yahoo.com; accessed June 21, 2017
  5. 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.
  6. Succeeding: Overcoming the Odds. Prestwick House. 2005. pp. 61–62. ISBN 9781580493093. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  7. "Million served in WWII". The Spectrum. June 17, 2015. Retrieved December 17, 2019.
  8. "Greyhound Walkout Spreading". Press and Sun-Bulletin. Binghampton, N.Y. Associated Press. June 21, 1967. p. 49. Retrieved December 14, 2019 via Newspapers.com.
  9. "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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Middleton, Faith. "Actor Danny Aiello, The Godfather, and Madonna". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  13. "Danny Aiello". PEOPLE.com. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  14. "Danny Aiello". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
  15. Emerson, Jim (July 7, 1989). "Danny Aiello Is 'The Jackie Robinson of Spike Lee Movies'". Chicago Tribune.
  16. Gates, Anita (December 13, 2019). "Danny Aiello, Actor in 'Do the Right Thing,' Dies at 86". The New York Times.
  17. Ebert, Roger. "Ready To Wear (Prêt-à-Porter) movie review (1994) | Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com.
  18. "29th Street", IMDb, retrieved March 3, 2018
  19. "LOVE & LOBSTERS. A family drama tells the true story of a Sheepshead Bay seafood firm under threat". NY Daily News. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  20. Bridges (Media notes). Danny Aiello. CD Baby. September 27, 2011. ASIN B005SI4MSA.CS1 maint: others (link)
  21. Liz Smith, "Papa Gets Second Chance In New Video", Sarasota Herald-Tribune (October 22, 1986), 5E.
  22. Lee, Felicia R. (July 23, 2011). "A Word With: Danny Aiello. Emotional Guy, Speaking for Others". The New York Times.
  23. 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."
  24. 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."
  25. "Passings: Danny Aiello III". Los Angeles Times. May 4, 2010.
  26. ""DANNY AIELLO" Book Results on Simon & Schuster". www.simonandschuster.com.
  27. Abrahams, Matthew (February 13, 2011). "Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay marries news anchor Jodi Applegate".
  28. "Danny Aiello, 'Do the Right Thing' and 'Moonstruck' Actor, Dies at 86". Variety. December 13, 2019. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
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