Daniel Louis Aiello, Jr. (New York, June 20, 1933-New Jersey, December 12, 2019), better known as Danny Aiello, was an American actor who worked in numerous films, including The Godfather II (1974), The Front (1976), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Moonspell (1987), Hudson Hawk (1991), Ruby (1992), Léon (1994), 2 Days in the Valley (1996), Dinner Rush (2000) and Lucky Number Slevin (2006). He had a pivotal role in Do the Right Thing (1989), where he played “Sal” Frangione, a role for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Aiello, the fifth of six siblings, was born in Manhattan, the son of Frances (née Pietrocova), a seamstress, and Daniel Louis Aiello, a laborer, who left the family after his wife lost her sight. For many years, Aiello publicly condemned his father”s abandonment, but reconciled with him in 1993. The family moved to the South Bronx when he was seven years old, and he later attended James Monroe High School. Both his mother and father were of American-born Italian descent; his maternal family hailed from Naples and Sorrento.
At sixteen, Aiello lied about his age to enlist in the U.S. Army. After serving for three years, he returned to New York and worked various jobs to support himself and his family.
During the 1960s, he was president of a state transit union representing workers on the Greyhound bus line. In 1967 he was in charge of an unapproved strike when the company changed the bus drivers” schedules. The strike was organized without the union”s authorization and because of this he was sanctioned. After one day, he called off the strike. He also worked as a security guard at The Improv nightclub.
Aiello began his film career in the early 1970s as a as a baseball player in the drama Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), opposite Robert De Niro. “I was forty years old when I made my first movie. I didn”t know what the hell I was doing. My acting back then, because I didn”t know how to write a character, was pure energy,” Aiello recalled. Unlike many actors of his generation, he had no formal acting training, which was to lead him to be considered “an instinctive actor. He had a small role as Tony Rosato in The Godfather II (1974), where he improvises the famous line “Michael Corleone says hello!” before attacking Frank Pentangeli (played by Michael V. Gazzo).
He later starred in Defiance (1980) opposite Jan-Michael Vincent, about a group of Manhattan residents who defend themselves against a group of criminals terrorizing the neighborhood. He later received considerable attention playing a cop in Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981) opposite Paul Newman. In 1981, Aiello won a Daytime Emmy Award for his role in ABC”s Afterschool Special.
He again coincided with De Niro in Sergio Leone”s gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984), playing a police chief also named “Aiello”. Among his many film appearances are three movies with director Woody Allen, who included him in Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and Radio Days (1987). He also appeared alongside Jackie Chan in The Protector (1985) where he played a New York cop. Aiello played Sal, the owner of a pizzeria in Do the Right Thing (1989), for which he wrote one of the scenes he played alongside John Turturro. His performance earned him nominations for the Golden Globe and Oscar awards for best supporting actor, while the Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles critics associations named him best supporting actor.
He has also played more sympathetic characters, such as Cher”s confused fiancé in Moonstruck (1987), and a comical cross-dressing performance in Pret-a-Porter (1994), a Robert Altman film about the fashion industry. He gave life to characters of a similar tone in films such as Jacob”s Ladder (1990) and the comedy 29th Street (1991). He also played Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner who assassinated Lee Harvey Oswald, in the biopic Ruby, starred in the satire about the film industry The Pickle (1993), played the title role in the Oscar-winning film Lieberman in Love and played a powerful politician linked to the mafia in City Hall, starring Al Pacino. Later, he starred in the independent films Brooklyn Lobster (2005) and Dolly Baby (2012).
His singing voice was used in films such as Hudson Hawk (1991), Once Around (1991) and Remedy (2005), starring his son Ricky Aiello. He released several albums, including I Just Wanted to Hear The Words (2004), Live from Atlantic City (2008) and My Christmas Song for You (2010). In 2011 he released the album Bridges with EMI producer Hasan Johnson.
In 1986 he made a cameo as Madonna”s father in the singer”s music video “Papa Don”t Preach”; curiously, a few months later Aiello recorded a song in response to Madonna”s “Papa Wants The Best For You”.
Some of the Broadway plays he worked on include Gemini, The Floating Light Bulb (a semi-autobiographical play by Woody Allen), Hurlyburly and The House of Blue Leaves.
From the early 1980s, Aiello lived in Ramsey, New Jersey, later moving to Saddle River, New Jersey. He married Sandy Cohen and had four children: Danny Aiello III (1957-2010), Rick Aiello, Jamie Aiello and Stacy Aiello. Danny Aiello III worked as a stuntman. Aiello was Catholic and his wife was Jewish. He was also conservative and of the Republican Party. He criticized stereotypes and foul language on screen, mentioning the series The Sopranos.
He passed away at the age of eighty-six, on the evening of December 12, 2019, at a clinic in New Jersey, where he was admitted for treatment of a sudden illness.