Danny Aiello, who was known for roles in Do the Right Thing and Moonstruck, is being remembered as a “genius comedic actor” and “true legend in his craft” after his death Thursday at age 86.
Tributes to the actor, who was 40 when he made his feature film debut, have been flooding social media from co-stars, colleagues and fans as news broke Friday. A statement from his rep said the “beloved husband, father, grandfather, actor and musician passed away last night after a brief illness.”
On behalf of the Aiello family 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. The family asks for privacy at this time. Service arrangements will be announced. pic.twitter.com/f2iDBgkcc5— TMA, INC (@TMApublicity) December 13, 2019
In Spike Lee 1989 film Do the Right Thing, the NYC native played a pizzeria owner in Brooklyn’s predominantly black Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood as racial issues boiled over, earning Aiello an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In Moonstruck, he played Cher’s fiancé, who called off their engagement only to have her become engaged to his brother (Nicolas Cage). Aiello, who started his career on the stage in NYC and appeared on Broadway, also made several movies with Woody Allen, including The Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days.
He had a bit but memorable role in The Godfather Part II — he infamously said "Michael Corleone says hello,” while offing a rival gangster, a line he ad-libbed and director Francis Ford Coppola liked — and played Madonna’s dad in her 1986 “Papa Don’t Preach” video. A singer himself, he recorded a rebuttal song to Madonna’s hit called “Papa Wants the Best for You.”) He also maybe inspired Robert De Niro’s infamous “You talking to me?” line in 1976’s Taxi Driver. When he and his wife, Sandy Aiello, saw the film in 1976, she turned to him and said, “Danny, he’s doing you,” Aiello wrote in his 2014 memoir, I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else. (Aiello had previously worked with De Niro in his feature film debut, 1973’s Bang the Drum Slowly, as well as The Godfather Part II.)
Spike Lee headed up the tributes with a series of photos related to their work on Do The Right Thing. They ranged from a picture of them together in June for a celebration of the movie’s 30th anniversary. to shots of them making the movie.
Lee called himself “heartbroken” to learn of Aiello’s “transition,” writing, “Danny, We made cinema history together with Do the Right Thing. May You Rest In PARADISE.”
Lee also sent condolences to the family, including Aiello’s wife Sandy and son Rick, who also had a role in DTRT. The director then urged fans to rewatch the film this weekend in memory of the actor.
Aiello’s Moonstruck leading lady, Cher, called him a “great actor” but a “genius comedic actor.” She said they “laughed so much making Moonstruck. It was one of the happiest times in my life and he was a part of that.” She ended the post with, “Goodbye, Johnny Cammareri. [Love, Loretta].”
Goodbye Dear #DannyAiello 💔— Cher (@cher) December 13, 2019
Danny was a Great Actor, But a
Genius Comedic Actor.We Laughed so much. Making #Moonstruck ..It was one of the happiest times in my life,& He Was apart of that Happy time.
Michael Kay, broadcaster for the New York Yankees, was Aiello’s nephew and he honored the “terrific man” who was “self-made, coming from nothing to be an Academy nominated actor.” Kay aded that Aiello “loved his family,” especially Sandy, to whom he was married for 64 years.
I would like to thank all of those sending their condolences on the passing of my uncle, Danny Aiello. He was a terrific man, self made, coming from nothing to be an Academy Award nominated actor. He loved his family dearly, adored his wife of 64 years, my Aunt Sandy.— Michael Kay (@RealMichaelKay) December 13, 2019
Charlize Theron, who worked with Aiello in 1996’s 2 Days in the Valley early in her career, said he was “everything you could’ve imagined — funny, gracious, kind and a true legend in his craft.”
Such sad news to wake up to this morning. One of my first jobs ever in Hollywood was with Danny Aiello and he was everything you could’ve imagined - funny, gracious, kind, and a true legend of his craft. You will be missed, my friend ❤️— Charlize Theron (@CharlizeAfrica) December 13, 2019
Mia Farrow, who worked with him on Allen projects, called him a “superb actor” and “lovely person.”
So very sad to hear that Danny Aiello has died. He was a superb actor and a lovely person. It was a joy and an honor to work with him (in Broadway Danny Rose) Condolences and love to his family https://t.co/NSeGCes6sy— Mia Farrow (@MiaFarrow) December 13, 2019
Some more of the reactions:
I started at the Improv in the late 60s when #DannyAiello was the maitre d’...he was wonderful, not just to me, but to everyone who turned up. I don’t think he had a mean bone in his body. My condolences to his family and close friends; he was one in a million.— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) December 13, 2019
Moments before #DannyAiello shot me as Lee Harvey Oswald in RUBY, 1992. A kind man, a family man, a serious actor, and a mensch....I enjoyed him immensely...Godspeed and #RIP Danny.... pic.twitter.com/CXrvd0hR7s— Willie Garson (@WillieGarson) December 13, 2019
RIP #DannyAiello— Billy Baldwin (@BillyBaldwin) December 13, 2019
From the Army to Greyhound labor rep to bouncer at The Improv to Hollywood stardom!!
From Johnny in Moonstruck to Sal in Do The Right Thing.
That smile, that laugh, that NY attitude.
They don’t make ‘em like Danny anymore.
What a talent… a true one of a kind. pic.twitter.com/ssaw9QvAVt
Danny Aiello is now sleeping with the stars. Thank you for everything, Danny. Your love, wisdom, talents and grace touched us all. Buon viaggio ❤️✌🏽— Matthew Modine (@MatthewModine) December 13, 2019
Rest in Power, Danny Aiello. “Do the Right Thing” was an important film for me and your portrayal of Sal was so real. I’ll never forget your performances in “The Odds” episode of “Tales from the Dark Side” and as the Police Captain in “January Man.” You were the glue in movies. https://t.co/ZZ95b3jkJK— KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) December 13, 2019
Danny Aiello had a huge heart. Anyone who ever worked with him felt it. And audiences felt it too. Sending love and respect to his family.— Ben Stiller (@RedHourBen) December 13, 2019
Sad to hear that Danny Aiello passed away. Before his Oscar nod in Do the Right Thing, he played my dad for many months in the Broadway comedy GEMINI. Here he is giving me a very memorable hairy eyeball as I sulk at the other end of the dinner table. RIP Danny. pic.twitter.com/pL4gQj6PJM— Robert Picardo (@RobertPicardo) December 13, 2019
RIP #dannyaiello— Andrew Phung (@andrewphung) December 13, 2019
I had the pleasure of working with Danny a couple of years back. He always had a huge smile on his face and was kindest person. He was always telling stories, and cracking jokes, but once that camera was rolling he was ready to go. A class act all the way.
One day, there was an extended break in the day and we were chatting about movies. I told him I loved seeing him alongside Jackie Chan in "The Protector". Danny proceeded to spend an hour showering me with amazing Jackie Chan stories. That was a fantastic day.— Andrew Phung (@andrewphung) December 13, 2019
Danny Aiello— kirk acevedo (@kirkacevedo) December 13, 2019
Rest In Peace my friend.
We lost a great actor today,
BUT more importantly we lost
a great person!
First day I met Danny he took me under his wing gave me advice on the business and life all the while driving me home in his Cadillac.
You’ll be missed!#DannyAiello🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/UsaFQQsfsx
Today, we remember the great Danny Aiello. His career spanned nearly five decades and included roles in films such as “Moonstruck” and “Do the Right Thing,” which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He will be missed. pic.twitter.com/CZkKiPYnOP— The Academy (@TheAcademy) December 13, 2019
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