Danny Aiello, the Oscar-nominated actor who appeared in movies like Do The Right Thing, The Godfather Part II, and Moonstruck, has died. Fox News confirmed the news with Aiello’s literary agent after TMZ reported that he died following complications related to an infection. He was 86.
“It is with profound sorrow to report that Danny Aiello, beloved husband, father, grandfather, actor and musician passed away last night after a brief illness,” Aiello’s family said in a statement. “The family asks for privacy at this time. Service arrangements will be announced at a later date.”
Born in Manhattan, Aiello followed up his childhood in the South Bronx with three years in the U.S. Army and subsequent gigs as a pool hustler, a union representative, and a bouncer at The Improv comedy club, where he fell into acting. One of his earliest film roles was also one of his most memorable; as the man who kills Frankie Pentangeli in The Godfather Part II, Aiello reportedly ad-libbed the line “Michael Corleone says hello!” That line, interestingly, has become a hot-button topic of discussion for die-hard fans of the film.
Aiello worked steadily throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, appearing in everything from prestige fare like Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America and Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose Of Cairo to B-movie delights like The Stuff and Tales From The Darkside. He scored an Oscar nomination for Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, and his muscular, layered turn as Italian-American pizzeria owner Sal remains central to the debates that still surround the movie.
He went on to appear in Eddie Murphy’s Harlem Nights, Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional, and Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. You may also remember him as Madonna’s preaching father in her “Papa Don’t Preach” video.
Aiello made an impact in music as well, flexing his big-band style in a number of ‘00s albums, as well as the notorious critical flop, Hudson Hawk, which has gained a cult following in recent years. In 2014, he released an autobiography, I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else: My Life on the Street, on the Stage, and in the Movies.
Tributes and recollections have been pouring in all morning. See some below.