Danny Aiello

Danny Aiello


Also Known As
Danny Louis Aiello Jr.
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
June 20, 1933


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 utt...

Family & Companions

Sandy Aiello
Married on January 8, 1955.


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 clever - perhaps too clever - 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." Meanwhile, 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.



Cast (Feature Film)

Little Italy (2018)
Reach Me (2014)
Henry & Me (2014)
A Broken Sole (2007)
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
Brooklyn Lobster (2005)
Mail Order Bride (2003)
Dinner Rush (2000)
Mambo Cafe (1999)
Prince Of Central Park (1999)
Wilbur Falls (1997)
Philip Devereaux
Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis (1997)
A Brooklyn State of Mind (1997)
Danny Parente
Two Much (1996)
Gene Paletto
City Hall (1996)
The Road Home (1996)
Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook (1996)
2 Days in the Valley (1996)
Mojave Moon (1996)
Lieberman in Love (1995)
Ready to Wear (1994)
Major Hamilton--Retail Buyer
The Professional (1994)
Save the Rabbits (1994)
Power of Attorney (1994)
Joseph Scassi
The Cemetery Club (1993)
The Pickle (1993)
Me and the Kid (1993)
Mistress (1992)
Ruby (1992)
Once Around (1991)
Hudson Hawk (1991)
29th Street (1991)
The Closer (1990)
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Russicum (1989)
Harlem Nights (1989)
Shock Troop (1989)
John Cunningham
The January Man (1989)
Making "Do the Right Thing" (1989)
The Preppie Murder (1989)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
White Hot (1988)
Alone in the Neon Jungle (1988)
Man On Fire (1987)
Daddy (1987)
Coach Jacobs
Moonstruck (1987)
The Pick-Up Artist (1987)
Radio Days (1987)
Key Exchange (1985)
The Stuff (1985)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Lady Blue (1985)
The Protector (1985)
Once Upon a Time in America - Extended Cut (1984)
Once Upon A Time In America (1984)
Old Enough (1984)
Mr Brucker
Deathmask (1983)
Captain Mike Gress
Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
A Question of Honor (1982)
Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (1981)
Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)
Hide In Plain Sight (1980)
Defiance (1980)
Bloodbrothers (1978)
Lovey: A Circle of Children, Part II (1978)
Bernie Serino
Last Tenant (1978)
Fingers (1978)
The Front (1976)
Bang The Drum Slowly (1973)

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Making "Do the Right Thing" (1989)

Cast (Special)

The Comedy Central Presents the New York Friars Club Roast of Rob Reiner (2000)
The Rat Pack (1999)
The Comedy Central Presents the New York Friars Club Roast of Jerry Stiller (1999)
The Italian Americans II: A Beautiful Song (1998)
The NFL at 75: An All-Star Celebration (1995)
Sinatra: 80 Years My Way (1995)
The 63rd Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1991)
Comic Relief IV (1990)
Night of 100 Stars III (1990)
Richard Lewis: "I'm Doomed" (1990)
The 22nd Annual NAACP Image Awards (1990)
The 39th Annual Tony Awards (1985)
The Unforgivable Secret (1982)
Car Wash (1979)
Frank Ravelli

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Mario Puzo's The Last Don II (1998)
Mario Puzo's The Last Don (1997)
Pinocchio (1994)
A Woman Named Jackie (1991)
Blood Feud (1983)

Life Events


First professional industry job was a substitute emcee at the Improvisation comedy club in NYC


Made his feature film debut in "Bang the Drum Slowly," starring Robert DeNiro


Had a bit part as small-time hood Tony Rosato in "The Godfather Part II"


Broadway debut, "Lamppost Reunion"


Made stage debut in the Chicago production of "That Championship Season"


Featured in the Paul Sorvino directed Broadway play, "Wheelbarrow Closers"


Early TV-movie credit, "The Last Tenant" (ABC)


Co-starred with Jan Michael Vincent in "Defiance"


Played a sadistic cop in "Fort Apache, the Bronx"


Cast in Broadway's "The Floating Light Bulb," written by Woody Allen


Again starred opposite Robert DeNiro in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America"


First film with director Woody Allen, "Broadway Danny Rose"


Cast as a worthy foil to Hong Kong action superstar Jackie Chan in "The Protector"


Made series debut as a regular in ABC's "Lady Blue"


Played Mia Farrow's husband in Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo"


Cast in an Off-Broadway revival of "The House of Blue Leaves"


Played Cher's fiance in Norman Jewison's "Moonstruck"


Once again directed by Woody Allen in "Radio Days"


Appeared in Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach" music video


Had a pivotal role in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing" as Salvatore 'Sal' Frangione, the pizzeria owner


Had a memorable role in Adrian Lyne's "Jacob's Ladder" as Jacob's friend and chiropractor


Cast as the patriarch of a close-knit family in Lasse Hallström's "Once Around"


Played the title role of Lee Harvey Oswald's assassin in "Ruby"


Appeared in drag for the Robert Altman fashion-industry film, "Prêt-à-Porter"


Played a cafe owner who assigns jobs to a hitman, played by Jean Reno in "The Professional"


Played the title role in Christine Lahti's Academy Award-winning short film, "Lieberman in Love" (also aired on Showtime)


Played a hit man in the ensemble feature, "2 Days in the Valley"


Starred in the CBS miniseries, "Mario Puzo's 'The Last Don'"


Executive produced and starred in CBS drama series, "Dellaventura"


Featured in the comedy film, "Mail Order Bride"


Released the album, <i>I Just Wanted To Hear The Words</i>


Starred in director Kevin Jordan's family-inspired drama, "Brooklyn Lobster"


Played a gambling victim in the thriller, "Lucky Number Slevin"


Portrayed a Shoemaker in "A Broken Sole," a trilogy of short films written by Susan Charlotte, dealing with 9/11


Released the album, <i>Live From Atlantic City</i>


Reprise his role as a Shoemaker in the Off-Broadway drama, "The Shoemaker"


Movie Clip

Lawnmower Man, The (1992) -- (Movie Clip) Virtual Space Industries Opening the world wide indy hit from director Brett Leonard and producer and co-writer Gimel Everett, barely based on the Stephen King story from which the title came, Pierce Brosnan as a virtual reality scientist and Mark Bringleson his boss, and an experiment with a chimp about to go wrong, in The Lawnmower Man, 1992.
Do The Right Thing (1989) -- (Movie Clip) Cleanest Sidewalk In Brooklyn Writer-director Spike Lee (as "Mookie") with Mother-Sister (Ruby Dee), and at work with Sal (Danny Aiello) and sons Pino and Vito (John Turturro, Richard Edson) and "Da Mayor," (Ossie Davis) early in Do The Right Thing, 1989.
Carnival Magic -- (Movie Clip) I'm Hiding A Monster At first weird as Markov (Don Stewart) appears to be alone, then discovers Ellen (Jennifer Houlton) and introduces Alex (Trudi, The Chimp) for an important chat, in Carnival Magic, 1982.
Carnival Magic -- (Movie Clip) Talking To A Monkey Restless Alex (Trudi The Chimp) takes the wheel like he's done it before, helpless girl (Missy O'Shea) snoozing in the back seat, in Carnival Magic, 1982, from producer Elvin Feltner.
Carnival Magic -- (Movie Clip) Who's The Boss? Big developments as magician Markov (Don Stewart) introduces long-hidden talking chimp pal Alex (Trudi, The Chimp) for his first performance, in Carnival Magic, 1982.
Radio Days -- (Movie Clip) You Were A Witness! Splendid turns by Danny Aiello (as Rocco the hit man) and Gina DeAngelis (his mom), supporting Mia Farrow (as "Sally"), who turns out to be from the old neighborhood, director Woody Allen narrating, in Radio Days, 1987.



Frances Pietrocova Aiello
Native of Naples, Italy; married at age 15; died in 1988.
Daniel Louis Aiello
Teamster. Mostly absent from children's upbrining; reconciled with Aiello in 1993; died in April 1999 at age 96.
Rick Aiello
Actor, former amateur heavyweight boxer, former nightclub bouncer. Born on September 21, 1955.
Danny Aiello III
Actor, stunt coordinator, producer. Born in 1957.
Jaime Aiello
Corporate headhunter. Born c. 1966.
Stacey Aiello
Fashion industry sales manager. Born c. 1969.


Sandy Aiello
Married on January 8, 1955.