Friends, as I’ve gotten older I cannot help but feel that in the last couple of years, as we watch the year itself ending – we start to get hammered with the news of iconic artists and performers passing away. Just last week we had the passing of both Rene Auberjonois and Caroll Spinney – who I literally have not been able to put into words how much he meant to me as of yet. Then today it was announced that Danny Aiello passed on the other day at the age of 86 – a good run I suppose and in my opinion he left behind an amazing number of films as his legacy at least. While Danny Aiello will rightfully be remembered for his roles in 1987’s Moonstruck as well as 1989’s Do the Right Thing – in my youth the first movie I recall seeing him in was 1981’s Chu Chu and the Philly Flash.
Danney Aiello most definitely didn’t start out in life with the intention of becoming an actor – as it turns out at the age of 16 he enlisted into the U.S. Army after lying about his age. He served for three years and upon returning to New York City supported his Family with a variety of jobs – including as a bouncer at none other than The Improv. His first acting gig was in 1973’s Bang the Drum Slowly where he appeared along with the likes of Robert De Niro, Michael Moriarty, and Vincent Gardenia to name a few. I should also point out that in 1973, Aiello had turned 40 years old – the following year found him being cast as Tony Rosato in The Godfather Part II. A small part perhaps but it also allowed him to have the distinction of ad-libbing a line in a Francis Ford Coppola film. In fact, Aiello would go on record about his late start in acting – courtesy of the Internet Movie Database:
“I was 40 when I did my first movie. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. My interpretation of acting at the time, because I didn’t know how to build a character, was pure energy. People call me an instinctive actor. I used to consider that an insult early on, only because I had never studied. Now… I love it.”
Aiello it would seem won quite a bit of acclaim thanks to his role as Morgan, the racist Police Officer in 1981’s Fort Apace the Bronx, the same year as Chu Chu and the Philly Flash I should add. He made a cameo in an episode of the popular PBS educational children’s show 3-2-1 Contact as a florist – before appearing in the likes of Once Upon a Time in America, the Tales from the Darkside episode entitled The Odds, and then Larry Cohen’s The Stuff. Of course he famously was featured in 1986’s “Madonna: Papa Don’t Preach” – a hugely successful song off her 1986 album True Blue – the video however caused quite a bit of controversy. Danny Aiello would comment that he accepted the role because his Daughter was a big fan of Madonna – it would seem he felt the need to create a music video of his own – to show the Father’s side of the story from Madonna’s video with “Papa Wants The Best For You“.
Danny Aiello would go on to appear in 1987’s Man on Fire, starring alongside Scott Glenn, Joe Pesci, and Jonathan Pryce. In addition he was cast in 1989’s Harlem Nights – although in the ’90s he would be featured in two of my favorite films. The first was 1990’s Jacob’s Ladder as Louis and while I do quite like Hudson Hawk from ’91 – it is his role as Tony in 1994’s Leon: The Professional that is my second favorite.
When Danny Aiello passed away on December 12th – he left behind 105 acting credits as his legacy. He may have had a late start in the acting game but he truly managed to make himself memorable in many of those roles he accepted.
“We will dim the lights in the auditorium.”