Beloved NYC Actor Danny Aiello Dies At 86

Danny Aiello In

Danny Aiello, the Italo-American stage and screen actor who entertained audiences with a diverse slate of roles for five-and-a-half decades, passed away yesterday at the age of 86 after a brief illnes.

DO THE RIGHT THING is obviously and rightfully the first film that gets mentioned when noting his career; he earned his first and only Oscar nomination as the beleaguered and sweaty Sal, the owner of the neighbordhood pizzeria that infamously had “no brothers on the wall”. But regular movie fans were plenty familiar with the instantly recognizable Aiello well before his supporting turn in Lee’s urban masterpiece about race relations on the brink of hitting the boiling point in Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year.

MOONSTRUCK. RADIO DAYS. ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. A handful of TV appearances. FORT APACHE: THE BRONX. THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO. Madonna’s father who maybe had a little too much to say about her pregnancy in her “Papa Don’t Preach” video. And after the success of DTRT and at almost 60 years old, Aiello had more opportunites than he did at 30. He could play fiery or avuncular and sometimes both in the same role.


Aiello was almost 40 when he debuted as “Horse” in the the three-hankie Yankee drama BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY. If you’re a DeNiro fan and a Yankees fan and haven’t seen this yet, then what the fuck? But you’re also missing one of the best baseball movies ever made.

A year later, he played a brief yet extremely pivotal role in THE GODFATHER PART II as Tony Rosato of the infamous Rosato Brothers and utters one of the saga’s most memorable lines.

Anytime an artist that I enjoy passes away, I like to go back and watch or listen to what made me fall in love with their work in the first place. With Aiello, other than the obvious, it could be “Tony” in THE PROFESSIONAL or the sadistic cop “Morgan” in the brutal, NYC-as-hellscape FORT APACHE: THE BRONX (seriously, what a dark fucking movie when NYC was a hellscape). Or you might go for the creepy, dreamlike psych-horror JACOB’S LADDER. Personally, I’m gonna go with him as “Frank Pesce” in the very underrated lottery heartwarmer 29TH STREET. And then follow up with a re-watch of FA: TB, a movie I haven’t seen in 25-30 years. If you’ve never seen DTRT, you should give it a watch not only because it’s an excellent film that is still timely and relevant 30 years later but because it’s Danny Aiello doing his best work and while the subject material isn’t fun, watching Aiello do his thing right sure is.

Whenever you think of an excellent Italian NY actor who could play good or bad, you think of Danny Aiello. He’s that iconic. And he left a hell of a legacy that we can revisit again and again.

Grazie, Mr. Aiello. Say ‘hello’ to Frankie Five Angels for us.