Danny Aiello, the Oscar-nominated star of “Do the Right Thing,” has died at the age 86. Aiello is survived by his wife of 64 years, Sandy Cohen and their four children. A statement from Aiello’s family said that a private funeral service would be forthcoming.
Aiello, a native of The Bronx, also appeared in prominent movies such as “Once Upon a Time in America,” “The Professional,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “Moonstruck.” Before going into acting, Aiello had many different jobs, including being a union official for Greyhound bus drivers as well as being in the U.S. Army.
In addition to his acting roles, Aiello was also an accomplished singer.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Aiello Played the Role of Tony Rosato in ‘The Godfather Part II’
Aiello’s first major role was as the gangster Tony Rosato in “The Godfather Part II.” In a brief but key scene in the movie, Aiello attempts to kill Frank Pentangeli, an associate of Michael Corleone’s. In addition, Aiello tries to frame Corleone for the crime.
Aiello also played the role of Domenico Clericuzio in Mario Puzo’s “The Last Don.” Aiello wrote in his 2014 book, “I Only Know Who I Am When I’m Somebody Else,” that people often come up to him and repeat his famous line, “Michael Corleone says hello,” while asking for autographs.
2. Aiello Based His Character of Sal in ‘Do the Right Thing’ on a Candy Store Owner He Grew Up With
In a documentary on the making of “Do the Right Thing,” Aiello said that he based his character of Sal on a candy shop owner he knew growing up along Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. Prior to Aiello taking the role, director Spike Lee had wanted Robert DeNiro for the part. Aiello’s son, Rick, also appears in the movie as a cop who is involving in the killing of Radio Raheem at the film’s climax.
Aiello told The New Yorker in 2014 about his feelings on the movie, ““I didn’t realize ‘Do the Right Thing’ was a political thriller when we were making it. Spike said that the American public knew that we were telling the truth. I don’t think the public knows shit about anything. The reason they reacted positively to it was because Spike Lee made a beautiful film.” He added, “I am the Jackie Robinson of the black films.””
3. Besides Performing, Aiello Is Also Known for His Right-Wing Politics
Aiello was a regular commentator on politics and described himself as a conservative. In 2016, Newsmax named Aiello as one of the 50 most influential conservatives in Hollywood. The website noted that Aiello supported Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican primary race.
When asked about how his conservative politics mixed with working in a Hollywood in a 2011 interview with the New York Times, Aiello said, “They’re probably the people responsible for outsourcing work more than any other company I’ve seen, but they claim to be liberals, great liberals. And they’re not. But what I say to you is I’m hearing them saying things like “for the little man,” and “for the unions.” Then, of course, you see movies being sent from Hollywood and everywhere else to places like Canada and right-to-work states, like North Carolina, where there is no union intervention, and they can get a movie done for half the price. I did a few movies in Canada, and I consider myself a turncoat for doing it.”
4. Before Turning to Acting, Aiello Was a Real-Life Criminal
In 2014, Aiello told the Staten Island Advance that prior to becoming an actor, he was involved in real-life gang activity. Aiello said that he was involved in running a numbers game for local mafia figures. In addition, Aiello said that he was involved in robbing cigarette vending machines.
Aiello said, “I’ve been so many damn things. I hate to admit it but I became a part-time thief. Never from people; it was always going into places with vending machines, cigarette machines. We were supporting ourselves with nickels and dimes and quarters. Unfortunately, that’s how I paid my rent at the time. I was married with a family to feed.”
5. Aiello Was the Uncle of ESPN’s Michael Kay
Aiello’s nephew was ESPN radio personality Michael Kay’s uncle. Kay paid tribute to Aiello on Twitter saying in part, “He was a terrific man, self-made, coming from nothing to be an Academy Award-nominated actor.”
Kay went on to describe Aiello as an enthusiastic Yankees fan and that the pair had running text message conversations during games. Kay said that Aiello sang at his wedding.