Do the Right Thing
“Look, people have an image of Italians. When I go somewhere in the world, I don’t care where it is, when they look at me it’s not about my intelligence. It’s who can I beat up.” Danny Aiello
Italian-American actor Danny Aiello fittingly portrayed pizzeria owner Sal in Spike Lee’s comedy drama Do the Right Thing (1989) and brought home a Chicago Film Critics Association Award and a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award. For the same role, he also earned an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination. Still performing Italian characters, Aiello could be seen as Tony Rosato in The Godfather: Part II (1974), as well as Don Domenico Clericuzio in “The Last Don” (1997).
As a stage performer, Aiello confirmed his skills by collecting an OBIE Award for his role in “Gemini” (1976) and an L.A. Drama Critics’ Circle Award for his captivating performance in “Hurlyburly” (1987). In 2004, the actor made an attempt in singing with the release of the album I Just Wanted To Hear The Words.
A charitable performer, Aiello is involved with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Paul Newman’s “Hole in the Wall Gang” organization for children with catastrophic diseases, as well as the “Frances Aiello Day Treatment Center” for young adults and children who cannot see or hear. The actor has four children from his marriage with Sandy Cohen.
Childhood and Family:
Born on June 20, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, Daniel Louis Aiello Jr. (later billed simply as Danny Aiello) was raised almost single-handedly by his mother Frances Aiello. Danny, who attended the James Monroe High School, worked as a shoeshine boy and newspaper hawker in Grand Central Station before he was eight.
He then faked his identity papers to join the Army, where he eventually served in Germany for three years. Returning to the Unites States, Danny became the President of the Greyhound Bus Union and, after being fired from the union post, a bouncer at a New York comedy club. His interest in acting began to grow after filling in as a substitute emcee in the club.
Danny stays in New York with wife Sandy Cohen, whom he married on January 8, 1955. They have four children, Rick, Danny III, Jaime and Stacey.
The Last Don
Danny Aiello’s performance as a comedy club emcee brought him to the film industry where he first appeared in the comedy film The Godmothers (1973) and the Robert De Niro-starring drama Bang the Drum Slowly (1973). Soon after, he acquired a more prominent part in the acclaimed The Godfather: Part II (1974), as Tony Rosato.
Aiello also tried acting on stage with a role in the Chicago production of “That Championship Season” (1975), which was followed by a Broadway stint in Louis LaRusso’s “Lamppost Reunion” (1975). He immediately showed his talent with an OBIE award-winning role in the play “Gemini” (1976). Later, Aiello re-teamed with playwright LaRusso in “Wheelbarrow Chasers” (1976) and “Knockout” (1979).
On TV, Aiello appeared in an episode of the famous series “Kojak” (1976) and reprised his Tony Rosato role in the miniseries “The Godfather Saga” (1977), before taking part in the TV films The Last Tenant (1978, played Carl) and A Family of Strangers (1980, starred as Dominic Ginetti). In 1981, the actor performed in Woody Allen’s play “The Floating Light Bulb” and portrayed a sadistic cop in the movie Fort Apache, the Bronx, alongside Paul Newman and Edward Asner. The prolific actor was then seen in The Unforgivable Secret (1982, TV), “3-2-1 Contact” (1983, 1 episode), the star-studded Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and The Protector (1985, opposite Jackie Chan).
After appearing in the staging of John Guare’s “The House of Blue Leaves” (1986), Aiello was handed a L.A. Drama Critics’ Circle award for his captivating performance in the play “Hurlyburly” (1987), opposite Sean Penn. He also presented a fine guest appearance as Frankie D. in the series “Night Heat” (1987) and earned a Gemini award nomination. A year later, the actor appeared in Madonna’s music video for “Papa Don’t Preach” (1988).
Aiello’s big break came when director Spike Lee cast him to play Sal, the owner of a Brooklyn pizza parlor, in the comedy drama Do the Right Thing (1989). For his strong acting, Aiello was handed Best Supporting Actor awards from the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. In addition, he received an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Not long after, Aiello accepted several other screen roles, including chiropractor Louis in Adrian Lyne’s horror Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Tommy Five-Tone in Bruce Willis’ vehicle Hudson Hawk (1991) and the title role in the biopic Ruby (1992). In 1993, Aiello detoured to the family movie genre with the role of kidnapper Harry in Me and the Kid, based on the novel by Stanley Cohen.
Subsequent to the thriller Léon (1994, played Tony), Aiello was cast as Major Hamilton in Robert Altman’s acclaimed ensemble “mockumentary” Prêt-à-Porter (1994) and took home a National Board of Review for Best Ensemble. Next up for the actor, he had the title role in the Oscar-winning short film Lieberman in Love (1995), costarred as Al in the romantic comedy Mojave Moon (1996, opposite Anne Archer and Angelina Jolie), portrayed Don Domenico Clericuzio in the miniseries “The Last Don” (1997, from the novel by Mario Puzo) and recreated the role in the spin-off “The Last Don II” (1998).
Aiello also took part in son Danny III’s directing effort titled 18 Shades of Dust (1999), acted with Harvey Keitel and Kathleen Turner in Prince of Central Park (2000) and starred as opera singer Fabrizio Bernini in the comedy Off Key (2001). Aiello, who tried screenwriting in Save the Rabbits (1994), attempted producing with the documentary projects Shorty (2003) and UnConventional (2004).
Still in 2004, the Italian actor tried his hand at music with an album titled I Just Wanted To Hear The Words, released under the IN2N label. The actor then continued his acting journey in the movies Zeyda and the Hitman (2004), Brooklyn Lobster (2005) and Lucky Number Slevin (2006).
Aiello, who is set to take the title role in the upcoming The Shoemaker (2006), will star as driver Frank Tramontana in the comedy Stiffs (slated for release in 2006). He will also share the screen with son Rick in the racism-themed movie 4Chosen (2008) before carrying out the role of John Taylor in the self-directed drama Anyone’s Son (2008).