Hollywood has taken to social media to mourn the passing of Danny Aiello, who passed away at the age of 86.
According to a statement from the actor’s family, the actor died earlier this morning after “a brief illness.”
Aiello was a character actor best known for his supporting roles in films made by New Hollywood directors, from Francis Ford Coppola to Robert Altman. No matter the size of the role, his performance stood out.
In the 1974 film The Godfather: Part II he played Tony Rosato, a gangster who delivers a deadly zinger—“Michael Corleone says hello”—during a hit against a strayed associate of the Corleone family. It was later revealed that the actor actually improvised that an oft-quoted line.
In 1987’s Moonstruck, he played Johnny Cammareri, the lovesick, anxious—and at times buffoonish—fiancé to Loretta (played by an Academy Award-winning Cher). It’s Johnny who sets off the chain of events that propel the narrative of that film when he tells her to call his brother Ronny, played by Nicolas Cage.
And perhaps his most well-known role was Sal, the Italian-American owner of Sal’s Pizzeria, in Spike Lee‘s Do the Right Thing. Aiello’s performance earned him both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor in 1989. He recently said he first met Lee at one of Madonna’s parties, where the filmmaker offered him a script that Aiello initially declined.
Aiello also played Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald’s killer, in Ruby and appeared in Léon: The Professional, Jacob’s Ladder, Harlem Nights, and Lucky Number Slevin. He worked with Robert DeNiro on multiple occasions, from his role in the Godfather trilogy to his appearance in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. He was also collaborated with Al Pacino. In 1994, Aiello took a surprising turn as Major Hamilton, a man with a taste for Chanel suits, in Prêt-à-Porter, an underrated Robert Altman film that satirizes the Paris Fashion Week. He also appeared in Madonna‘s “Papa Don’t Preach” music video as the performer’s judgmental father.
Cher reacted to her Moonstruck co-star’s death on Twitter, calling him not only a “great actor” but a “genius comedic actor” as well, and said working with him on Moonstruck was “one of the happiest times in my life.”
“Very sad morning,” Lee said in a video he posted to Instagram. “I found out that my brother Danny Aiello—the late great Danny Aiello—passed away early this morning. Blessings go out to his wife Sandy, his son Rick, who was in Do the Right Thing, and his family. Danny, we’ll miss you. Rest in paradise. We made cinematic history together with your portrayal of Sal in Do the Right Thing, and you know what, your pictures will go up on the Italian American wall of fame. God bless.”
The former co-stars recently reunited at Lee’s annual Do the Right Thing block party in June earlier this year.
Charlize Theron, who worked with Aiello on the 1996 crime film 2 Days in the Valley, mourned the loss of the actor on Twitter as well, recalling that she him on one of her first jobs in Hollywood.
Actors, directors, colleagues, and fans of Aiello responded to his passing on social media.