Danny Aiello, 'Do the Right Thing' star, dies at 86

NEW YORK -- Danny Aiello, known for his roles in the 1989 comedy-drama "Do the Right Thing" and 1987 rom-com "Moonstruck," had died after a brief illness, his publicist confirmed. He was 86 years old.

"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. The family asks for privacy at this time. Service arrangements will be announced at a later date," his publicist said in a statement.

The Manhattan-born Aiello worked several odd jobs, including as a union president, before breaking into film in the early 1970s. The blue-collar character actor had roles in several movies, including "The Godfather Part II," "Harlem Nights" and "Dinner Rush."

"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."

The ebullient Aiello became a favorite of several directors, among them Woody Allen, who used him in the Broadway play "The Floating Light Globe" and the movies "Broadway Danny Rose," "The Purple Rose of Cairo" and "Radio Days."

Spike Lee was another admirer and for "Do the Right Thing" cast Aiello as a pizzeria operator in a black neighborhood of Brooklyn, the movie climaxing with a riot that destroys his eatery. "This is my pizzeria!" he cried. Lee had first offered the role to Robert De Niro, but Aiello's performance brought him an Oscar nomination for supporting actor.

Aiello and his wife of more than 60 years, Sandy, lived in Ramsey, New Jersey. He also is survived by three children and 10 grandchildren: Rick, Jamie and Stacy. A fourth son, stuntman and stunt coordinator Danny Aiello III, died in May 2010 of pancreatic cancer.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Copyright © 2022 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.