Oscar-Nominated “Do The Right Thing” Actor Danny Aiello Has Passed Away At Age 86
Last night (December 12), actor Danny Aiello died at the age of 86 in New Jersey. A native New Yorker, Aiello was nominated for an Academy Award for his role of “Sal Fragione” in Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do The Right Thing. He also appeared in The Godfather Part II, Moonstruck, Once Upon A Time In America, Fort Apache The Bronx, and Harlem Nights, to name a few titles in a career that spanned more than 50 years. According to TMZ, Aiello suffered a recent, undisclosed infection.
Apart from film, Aiello was a veteran of the stage. In the 1980s, one of his most active decades, he also starred in the music video for Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach.” Before acting, he was a bouncer at New York City’s comedy club, The Improv. The Manhattan native remained active in his career through 2019.
In 1989, Aiello spoke to The Chicago Tribune about working on what became the most recognized role of his extensive career.”When I looked at the [Do The Right Thing] script, I looked at it as making fun of racism. It is serious, there’s no question. But it appeared in the first 70 pages to be culture comedy. Italian-Americans make fools of themselves, Blacks make fools of themselves, the Koreans [doing the same] So everyone sort of looks like an idiot for a moment. Spike was very even-handed about that.” He continued, “And then I saw the devastating turn that it took, somewhere 15 minutes from the end. That was obvious even on paper. However, there was one weak person in that film, and it was my character. I told Spike I didn’t think the character was fulfilling enough. I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it, but I said I would like to have some input-by me-into that character. Would that be all right? He said, ‘Anything you wanna do. Whatever you wanna do, you do. Whatever.’ You know, it`s a great compliment to him to lack ego in that area.” In that interview, he revealed that he took that license, writing and orchestrating the pizzeria window scene with his character’s son “Pino,” played by John Turturro. That scene is embedded below. He praised the writing of Lee, particularly in the film’s iconic montage sequence of racial slurs and stereotypes.
“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,” his family said in a statement published by ABC News. “The family asks for privacy at this time.”
Spike Lee posted a photo of him and Aiello from earlier this year. The two New Yorkers reconnected for 20th and 30th-anniversary celebrations surrounding Do The Right Thing.
Aiello is survived by wife, Sandy Cohen. The couple was together for more than 60 years. They have four children.
#BonusBeat: One of Danny Aiello’s most iconic Do The Right Thing scenes: