×

Blue-collar character actor Danny Aiello dies at age 86

NEW YORK (AP) — Danny Aiello, the blue-collar character actor whose long career playing tough guys included roles in “Fort Apache, the Bronx,” “Moonstruck” and “Once Upon a Time in America” and his Oscar-nominated performance as a pizza man in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” has died. He was 86.

Aiello died Thursday night after a brief illness, said his publicist, Tracey Miller, who runs Tracey Miller & Associates. “The family asks for privacy at this time,” she said in a statement.

In a tweet, Cher mourned the man she called “a genius comedic actor.” The two had starred in “Moonstruck” and she called it “one of the happiest times in my life.” Actor Michael Rapaport tweeted that Aiello was a “huge inspiration” and actor Kirk Acevedo mourned: “We lost a great actor today.”

Recognizable, if not famous, for his burly build and husky voice, he was an ex-union president who broke into acting in his 30s and remained a dependable player for decades, whether vicious or cuddly or some of each.

His breakthrough, ironically, was as the hapless lover dumped by Cher in Norman Jewison’s hit comedy “Moonstruck.” His disillusion contributed to the laughter, and although he wasn’t nominated for a supporting-role Oscar (Cher and Olympia Dukakis won in their categories), Aiello was inundated with movie offers.

“Living in New York City gave me training for any role,” he said in a 1997 interview. “I’ve seen people killed, knifed. I’ve got scars on my face. I have emotional recall when I work; the idea is simply to recreate it. I’ve seen it and experienced it. I’ve played gangsters, teachers but most of my work has been in the police area. And for that I’m adored by the police in New York City.”

Newsletter

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)