Danny Aiello, 'Do the Right Thing' and 'Godfather Part II' Actor, Dead at 86

Veteran actor Danny Aiello died Thursday night, his family told TMZ. He was 86. The news outlet reports Aiello died at a medical facility in New Jersey, where he was being treated for a sudden illness, and that he had suffered an infection related to his treatment. Aiello reportedly passed away shortly after his family left the facility after visiting him on Thursday.

Aiello, best known for his roles in The Godfather Part II, Do the Right Thing and Moonstruck, broke into movies in the early 1970s by landing a small part in the Robert De Niro baseball drama Bang the Drum Slowly. After that, he performed as Tony Rosato in The Godfather Part II, in which he memorably said, "Michael Corleone says hello!"

Aiello earned praise in several popular '80s movies including Fort Apache the Bronx with Paul Newman, Once Upon a Time in America, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Moonstruck, where he played Johnny Cammareri — the character who Cher's character Loretta was set to marry until she fell for his brother, played by Nicolas Cage.

danny-aiello_getty-Mike Coppola : Contributor
(Photo: Mike Coppola / Contributor / Getty, Getty)

But perhaps his most famous role of all came amid massive critical acclaim, including his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, with Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, where he played pizza joint owner Sal.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune at the time of the film's release, he called the role his "first focal part" and further identified the film as a very collaborative effort, saying that at one point, Lee told him, "Whatever you wanna do, you do." Alongside his Oscar nomination, he also received a Golden Globe nod for the role.

In the 1992 biopic Ruby, Aiello played nightclub owner and Lee Harvey Oswald assassin Jack Ruby.

His musical talent was on display in films like Hudson Hawk (1991), Once Around (1991) and Remedy (2005), which starred his son Rick Aiello and Jonathan Doscher. He released several full length, big-band albums: I Just Wanted to Hear The Words in 2004, Live From Atlantic City in 2008 and My Christmas Song for You in 2010. In 2011, Aiello and EMI songwriter Hasan Johnson released an album of standards fused with rap called Bridges.

Madonna fans might also remember Aiello for playing the father in the music video for her song "Papa Don't Preach" in 1986.


Aiello is survived by his wife of nearly 65 years, Sandy, as well as children Rick, Jaime and Stacey Aiello. His son, Danny Aiello III, who was a stuntman and actor, died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer.

Photo credit: Mike Coppola / Contributor / Getty