Danny Aiello

Danny Aiello Headshot

Actor

Birth Date: June 20, 1933

Death Date: December 12, 2019

Birth Place: New York, New York

Having left behind his working class life in his late thirties to become a performer, actor Danny Aiello became one of Hollywood's busiest and most prominent character actors without really leaving his beloved native New York City. After establishing himself on various stages around his hometown, Aiello made his film debut as a baseball player in "Bang the Drum Slowly" (1973), before uttering one of the more famous lines as a would-be assassin in "The Godfather Part II" (1974). He went on to essay several stage roles that earned him critical plaudits before winning a Daytime Emmy for his role as a widowed father in the "ABC Afterschool Special: A Family of Strangers" (ABC, 1980).

Aiello soon grabbed the attention of filmmaker Woody Allen, who cast him for a role in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1984), which he followed with a turn in Sergio Leone's epic crime saga, "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984). He soon came to the forefront with two of his career best performances: playing the lovelorn Johnny in "Moonstruck" (1987) and the sympathetic but insensitive pizzeria owner Sal in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (1989). Following a turn as an angelic chiropractor in "Jacob's Ladder" (1990), there was no doubt that Aiello remained a talented and versatile character performer capable of tackling a wide array of challenging roles.

Aiello was born on June 20, 1933 in New York City to working class parents; his father, Daniel, was a teamster and his mother, Frances, was an immigrant from Naples, Italy. When he was two years old, his father left the family, which forced his mother to work as a seamstress to put food on the table. Even Aiello himself was put to work at seven years old, working as a shoeshine boy and newspaper hawker at Grand Central Station. Later, he quit school in the eighth grade to work in a grocery store and bowling alley, while running with a pack of hoods and engaging in petty theft. At 16, he used a fake ID to join the Army and served in Germany for three years. After being honorably discharged, Aiello married a neighborhood girl, Sandy Cohen, in 1955 and embarked on what started out as a normal working class life. He landed a job at the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Manhattan, where he loaded buses and worked his way up to becoming a public address announcer. Later, Aiello was active in the Local 1202 of the Amalgamated Transit Union and eventually became their youngest ever president.

Times were good until June 1967, when the drivers threatened to strike. While Aiello backed his membership, the union brass backed management, leading him to lose both his position within the union and his job. Broke and struggling to put food on the table for his four children, Aiello did everything possible to support his family: loading trucks, working at local clubs and even resorting to petty theft. But life began to change for the better when he began working as a bouncer for a comedy club called the Improvisation. Because of his obvious charm and easy manner, Aiello was given the opportunity to serve as the master of ceremonies, which led to comics like Robert Klein or Rodney Dangerfield using him as a straight man in their acts. Soon the working class father of four became enamored with the idea of entering show business, even though he was well into his thirties. After turning down an understudy role for a national tour of "The Great White Hope," Aiello and local playwright Louis LaRusso began staging plays in a church basement, eventually taking one play called "Knockout" to Broadway. Though "Knockout" was panned by critics, Aiello's performance was praised, leading to his feature film debut at nearly 40 years old as a baseball teammate of Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarty in the film "Bang the Drum Slowly" (1973).

He soon followed with a very small role in "The Godfather Part II" (1974), playing hit man Anthony Rosato, who famously utters the line, "Michael Corleone says hello," in his failed attempt to whack Frank Pentangelli (Michael V. Gazzo). Making his Broadway debut, Aiello earned a Theatre World Award for his performance in "Lamppost Reunion" (1975) before winning an OBIE Award for his role in Albert Innaurato's "Gemini" (1976). He later recreated the part on Broadway. After collaborating with LaRusso once again for "Wheelbarrow Chasers" (1976), Aiello began appearing on the small screen with a supporting role in the made-for-television movie, "The Last Tenant" (ABC, 1978). For the "ABC Afterschool Special: A Family of Strangers" (ABC, 1980), Aiello won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement (Children's Program) for his performance as a widower with two daughters who tries to forge a bond with his new stepdaughter. Returning to Broadway, Aiello had a leading role in Woody Allen's "The Floating Light Bulb" (1981), playing the philandering gambler of a husband to a scheming matriarch (Bea Arthur) who secretly plans on leaving their marriage. He followed with a darker turn as a sadistic cop who pushes a kid off a tenement roof in "Fort Apache, the Bronx" (1981), resulting in a decent patrolman (Paul Newman) bucking the system in a search for justice while trying to maintain his dignity.

A few years later, he renewed his collaboration with Woody Allen - this time on film - to play a brutish husband in Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1984). Also that year, he had a small role as a corrupt police chief in Sergio Leone's sweeping crime epic, "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984), starring Robert De Niro, James Woods and Elizabeth McGovern. Following a performance in John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves" (1986), Aiello won the L.A. Drama Critic's Circle Award for his performance as Phil in the Los Angeles debut of David Rabe's "Hurlyburly" (1987), opposite Sean Penn. Thanks to his impressive array of stage work, Aiello managed to secure richer parts onscreen. Perhaps his most acclaimed supporting roles came with his next two films.

First, he played the lovelorn jilted mama's boy Johnny Cammareri, who loses his fiancée (Cher) to his bother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), in "Moonstruck" (1987). Aiello next portrayed the sympathetic but insensitive pizzeria owner Sal, who operates his restaurant inside a black neighborhood, in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (1989). The latter garnered him critical acclaim, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and a higher profile career. He played the angelic chiropractor, Louis, who helps counsel a Vietnam veteran (Tim Robbins) suffering from bizarre hallucinations in "Jacob's Ladder" (1990). Though the romantic dramedy "Once Around" (1991) boasted an impressive ensemble, including Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, Gena Rowlands and Griffin Dunne, it was the untrained Aiello who walked off with the best notices.

That same busy year, he also played the loyal sidekick to Bruce Willis in the ill-fated caper comedy "Hudson Hawk" (1991) and the unlucky father of the lottery-winning Anthony LaPaglia in "29th Street" (1991). Aiello next had the title role of "Ruby" (1992), a failed speculative biopic of the man who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, before taking another wrong turn as a crook who kidnaps a wealthy young boy (Alex Zuckerman) in "Me and the Kid" (1993). From there, Aiello continued making questionable choices following a career which had been on quite a roll up to the early 1990s. After a rather forgettable supporting performance in the comedic drama, "The Cemetery Club" (1993), he starred as a film director in desperate need of a hit in Paul Mazursky's failed Hollywood satire, "The Pickle" (1993). He made an appearance in Robert Altman's ensemble "Pret-a-Porter/Ready to Wear" (1994), before turning in a fine performance as a mob boss who employs a hit man (Jean Reno) befriended by a 12-year-old girl (Natalie Portman) in "The Professional" (1994).

Aiello had the leading role in the Oscar-winning short film, "Lieberman in Love" (1995), then played a Brooklyn political boss with his own agenda in the textured political drama, "City Hall" (1996), starring Al Pacino and John Cusack. While playing a romantic role in Kevin Dowling's "Mojave Moon" (1996), Aiello portrayed a kindhearted heavy in John Herzfeld's Tarantino-esque crime comedy, "2 Days in the Valley" (1996). While Aiello had been largely shying away from television, he was made an offer he could not refuse when he was presented with the role of Mafia patriarch Don Clericuzio in the miniseries "Mario Puzo's 'The Last Don'" (CBS, 1997), which earned him some of his best critical acclaim of the decade. The network also managed to lure him back to series work as the star and executive producer of "Dellaventura" (CBS, 1997-98), a procedural drama about a former New York City cop-turned-private investigator.

Knowing Aiello's reticence to work in Los Angeles, the network took the rare step of moving the entire production to him. Despite the Herculean effort to build a show around Aiello, the series failed to last more than a season. In "Wilbur Falls" (1998), Aiello played a small town sheriff whose daughter gets wrapped up in murder, which he then followed with the role of an aging Mob assassin in "Hitman's Journal" (1998). He flew under the radar after that, taking on a supporting role opposite Paul Rodriguez in the Latin comedy "Mambo Café" (1999) and playing a successful restaurateur whose son owes the Mob a bundle of cash in the indie-made "Dinner Rush" (2000). More indie features soon followed for Aiello, who appeared in obscure movies like "Prince of Central Park" (2000), "Mail Order Bride" (2003) and "Brooklyn Lobster" (2005). He next had a small part in "Lucky Number Slevin" (2006), a crime thriller about mistaken identity that had obvious influence from Quentin Tarantino, even down to a cast that included Bruce Willis and Lucy Liu. But after that role, Aiello fell off the Hollywood map completely, not appearing in any films or television roles.

He did surface as a crooner of sorts, putting out an album called Live from Atlantic City (2008), on which he warbled such old standards as "All of Me," "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" and "Pennies from Heaven." Aiello suffered a family tragedy when his son, Danny Aiello III, a longtime stunt performer and occasional actor, died from pancreatic cancer in his Hillside, NJ, home at 53 years old. Daniel Louis Aiello Jr. died on December 12, 2019 at the age of 86.

Credits

Once Upon a Time in America

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Police Chief Aiello
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2023

One Moment: Extras

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2022

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Movie
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60%

One Moment

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Joe McGuinness
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2021

Opowieści z ciemnej strony

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Show
2020

Making a Deal with the Devil

Actor
Movie
2019

The Last Big Save

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Movie
2019

Little Italy

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Carlo
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2018

The Neighborhood

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Joseph Donatello
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2017

Mulberry St

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2014

Reach Me

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Father Paul
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2014

Henry & Me

Voice
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2014

My Generation

Guest
Show
2008

A Broken Sole

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2007

Lucky Number SlevinStream

Actor
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2006
52%

Stiffs

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Frank Tramontana
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2006

The Last Request

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Pop
Movie
2006

Brooklyn Lobster

Actor
Frank Giorgio
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2005

Zeyda and the Hitman

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Mail Order Bride

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2003

Off-Key

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2001

18 Shades of Dust

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2000

18 Shades of Dust

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2000

Dinner Rush

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2000

Prince of Central Park

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1999

Mambo Cafe

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1999

The Last Don II

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Show
1998

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Mr. Rathbone
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1998

Wilbur Falls

Actor
Phil Devereaux
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1998

Dellaventura

Actor
Show
1997

Dellaventura

Director
Show
1997

Dellaventura

Executive Producer
Show
1997

The Last Don

Actor
Show
1997

The Last Don

Actor
Don Domenico Clericuzio
Movie
1997

A Brooklyn State of Mind

Actor
Danny Parente
Movie
1997

CosbyStream

Guest Star
Series
1996

Lieberman in Love

Actor
Show
1996

City HallStream

Actor
Frank Anselmo
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1996
56%

Two Much

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Gene
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1996

Mojave Moon

Actor
Al
Movie
1996

The Road Home

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Duke
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1996

2 Days in the ValleyStream

Actor
Dosmo Pizzo
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1996
62%

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1996

El Poder de Ley

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1995

Power of Attorney

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Joseph Scassi
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1995

Directed By

Actor
Show
1994

Léon: The ProfessionalStream

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Tony
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1994
74%

Ready to WearStream

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Major Hamilton
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1994
24%

The Pickle

Actor
Harry Stone
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1993

Me and the Kid

Actor
Harry
Movie
1993

Peligroso Deseo

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Movie
1992

Ruby: La Tragedia de Kennedy

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1992

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Mistress

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1992

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1991

Hollywood Mistress

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1991

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1991

Once Around

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1991

The Closer

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Chester Grant
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1991

Hudson HawkStream

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Tommy Five-Tone
Movie
1991
31%

29th Street

Actor
Frank Pesce, Sr.
Movie
1991

Jacob's LadderStream

Actor
Louis
Movie
1990
72%

Jedna runda

Actor
Movie
1990

Millerovo raskrižje

Actor
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1990

Shock Troop

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John Cunningham
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1990

Crack, putain de drogue

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1989

La Marca de la Furia

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1989

The Third Solution

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George Sherman
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1989

Do the Right ThingStream

Actor
Sal
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1989
92%

The Preppie Murder

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1989

Harlem NightsStream

Actor
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1989
26%

Russicum

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George Sherman
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Making 'Do the Right Thing'

Self
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1989

Alone in the Neon Jungle

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1988

The January ManStream

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1988
24%

Crack in the Mirror

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1988

White Hot

Actor
Charlie Buick
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1988

Man on FireStream

Actor
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1987

The Pick-Up Artist

Actor
Phil Harper
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1987
61%

MoonstruckStream

Actor
Mr. Johnny Cammareri
Movie
1987
92%

Radio DaysStream

Actor
Rocco
Movie
1987
92%

Daddy

Actor
Coach Jacobs
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1987

Lady Blue

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Lt. Terry McNichols
Show
1985

Night Heat

Guest Star
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1985

Dama Azul

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Movie
1985

La Sustancia Maldita

Actor
Movie
1985

Lady Blue

Actor
Lt. Terry McNichols
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1985

The Purple Rose of CairoStream

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Monk
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1985
93%

Key Exchange

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1985

The Stuff

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Movie
1985

The Protector

Actor
Danny Garoni
Movie
1985

Deathmask

Actor
Capt. Mike Grasso
Movie
1984

Once Upon a Time in AmericaStream

Actor
Police Chief Vincent Aiello
Movie
1984
88%

Old Enough

Actor
Mr. Bruckner
Movie
1984

Chu Chu and the Philly Flash

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Johnson
Movie
1981

Fort Apache, The Bronx

Actor
Morgan
Movie
1981
80%

Hide in Plain Sight

Actor
Sal Carvello
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1980

CBS News Sunday Morning

Guest
News
1979

Defiance

Actor
Carmine
Movie
1979

BloodbrothersStream

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1978

Fingers

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Butch
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1978
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The Front

Actor
Danny LaGattuta
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1976

Hooch

Actor
Movie
1976

Saturday Night LiveStream

Host
Series
1975

KojakStream

Guest Star
Matty
Series
1973

Bang the Drum SlowlyStream

Actor
Horse
Movie
1973
90%