Daniel Louis "Danny" Aiello, Jr. (born June 20, 1933, died December 12, 2019)[1] was an American actor who has appeared in numerous motion pictures, including Once Upon a Time in America, Ruby, The Godfather: Part II, Hudson Hawk, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Moonstruck, Léon: The Professional, Two Days in the Valley, and Dinner Rush. He had a pivotal role in the 1989 Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing, earning a nomination for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Salvatore 'Sal' Frangione, the pizzeria owner, and also as Don Domenico Clericuzio in the miniseries Mario Puzo's The Last Don.

Early life

Aiello, the second youngest of six children, was born in Manhattan,[2] the son of Italian American parents Frances (née Pietrocova), a seamstress who was a native of Naples, Italy, and Daniel Louis Aiello, Sr., a laborer. Aiello's father deserted the family even though his wife had gone blind. For many years, Aiello had publicly condemned his father's desertion of his children and his blind wife. Aiello reconciled with his father in 1993, but to this day harbors a resentment of his father's conduct.[1][3][4] He moved to the South Bronx when he was age 7 and later attended James Monroe High School.[4] At 16-years-old, Aiello lied about his age in order to enlist in the U.S. 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. Aiello also once served as a union representative for Greyhound bus workers and was a night club bouncer.


Aiello broke into films in the early 1970s. One of his earliest roles came as a ballplayer in the 1973 baseball drama, Bang the Drum Slowly, with Robert DeNiro. Aiello had a walk-on as small-time hood Tony Rosato in The Godfather Part II (1974), ad-libbing the famous line "Michael Corleone says hello!" during a hit on a rival gangster Frank Pentangelli (Michael V. Gazzo).

He was paired with DeNiro again for the 1984 Sergio Leone gangster epic, Once Upon a Time in America, as a police chief whose name was also, "Aiello." His many film appearances included three for director Woody Allen, who cast him in, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Broadway Danny Rose and Radio Days. He received considerable acclaim for playing a racist New York City cop in Fort Apache the Bronx (1981) with Paul Newman.

Although his characters have often been vulgar and violent, Aiello has also portrayed sensitive, kindly men with an earthy sense of humor. He gained recognition as the befuddled fiance of Cher opposite her Oscar-winning performance in Moonstruck (1987), and the actor made a comic appearance in drag for the Robert Altman fashion-industry film Pret-a-Porter. He also had sympathetic roles in Jacob's Ladder and 29th Street.

He played nightclub owner and Lee Harvey Oswald assassin Jack Ruby in the 1992 biopic Ruby and a political bigshot with mob ties in City Hall, starring Al Pacino.

Aiello has a fine singing voice, which has been on display in films such as Hudson Hawk, Once Around; and Remedy that starred his son Ricky Aiello and Jonathan Doscher. He has released several albums featuring a big-band sound including "I Just Wanted To Hear The Words" from 2004 and "Live From Atlantic City" from 2008. Aiello and EMI songwriter Hasan Johnson are releasing an album in 2009 of standards fused with rap entitled, "Bridges."

In 1981 Danny Aiello won a Daytime Emmy award for his appearance in an ABC Afterschool Special called, A Family of Strangers.

He played the title character for the video of Madonna's song, "Papa Don't Preach."

Aiello's Broadway theatre credits include Gemini, The Floating Light Bulb, Hurlyburly, and The House of Blue Leaves.

Personal life

Aiello lived in Ramsey, New Jersey, since the early 1980s.[5] He later moved to Saddle River, New Jersey.[6] He is the father of stuntman/actor Danny Aiello III, who died May 1, 2010 of pancreatic cancer, and Rick Aiello.

During an interview with Sean Hannity, Aiello pointed out that he is a conservative and was raised Roman Catholic. He has also criticized the overuse of profanity in films and television series, as well as movies and television shows featuring poor portrayals of Italian-Americans.[citation needed]

His nephew is Michael Kay, announcer for the New York Yankees.


Aiello died on December 12, 2019, at age 86 at a hospital in New Jersey, following a brief illness. Many in the entertainment industry voiced their sadness either on Twitter or released statements, such as his Moonstruck co-star Cher, and Robert De Niro, who starred alongside Aiello in 4 films together, Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), The Godfather Part II (1974), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), and Mistress (1992). De Niro wrote, "I am very saddened to hear of Danny's passing. I have known him for almost 50 years. See you in Heaven, Danny." Aiello's funeral was held on December 19, 2019 at the Riverside Memorial Chapel on the Upper West Side. Director Spike Lee and actor John Turturrogave eulogies. Lee stated, "We recognized our differences, political or whatever else you want to talk about it, but we truly loved each other."



  1. 1.0 1.1 Danny Aiello Biography (1933?-)
  2. AIELLO, Danny International Who's Who. accessed September 1, 2006.
  3. HIS BUS CAME IN - New York Times
  4. 4.0 4.1 Danny Aiello Biography - Yahoo! Movies
  5. 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."
  6. Saddle River, The Star-Ledger by Andrea Adams, 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."

External links

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