He was one of the most versatile entertainers of his generation. He appeared in over 90 movies from 1973 to 2019. Many of them are classics with famous co-stars, such as “Bang the Drum Slowly” with Robert DeNiro (1973), “Godfather Part II” with Al Pacino and a host of other big-name stars (1974), “The Front” (1976) with Woody Allen, “Fort Apache, The Bronx” with Paul Newman (1981), “Moonstruck” with Cher (1987), and “Do the Right Thing” (1989) with Spike Lee, for which he earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor. Interestingly, in the “Godfather” he played a hit-man. While killing a rival gangster, Frank Pentangeli, he ad-libbed the line, which you may remember, “Michael Corleone says hello!”
In addition, he made several appearances on tv, winning a daytime Emmy for a guest appearance on an ABC “Afterschool Special” entitled “A Family of Strangers.” Furthermore, he appeared in various theatre productions, both on and off Broadway. Finally, he was an accomplished singer. He released several big band recordings , such as “I Just Wanted to Hear the Words” (2004) and standards fused with rap, such as “Bridges” (2011).
Daniel Louis Aiello, Jr. came from very humble beginnings. One might say his success fit that old cliché, “only in America.” He was born on June 20, 1933 on the West Side of Manhattan, NYC, the fifth of six children. When he was seven the family moved to the South Bronx, He had a very tough childhood. His mother was a seamstress, who eventually lost her eyesight and became legally blind. His father was a common laborer who deserted the family. Danny always resented his father. Yes, humble beginnings, indeed.
At 16 Danny lied about his age and joined and the Army. Upon his release he returned to NYC where he worked at various odd jobs. For example, he served as president of NY Local 1202 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represented Greyhound Bus workers, and he was a bouncer, and later emcee, at the “Improv,” a well-known NYC comedy club.
As mentioned above, in 1973 he broke into the movies. According to his nephew, Yankees broadcaster and radio sports talk show host, Michael Kay, he did so without the benefit of any acting lessons. He was just naturally talented. As I said above, he enjoyed a very long career – nearly 50 years – and versatile – movies, tv, Broadway and music.
Danny leaves behind his wife, Sandy, to whom he was married for 64 years, and four children. How many entertainers do you know of who were married to the same wife for 64 years? Not too many.
Danny died suddenly on December 12 of an infection while hospitalized for an undisclosed illness. Rest in peace, Danny. You will be sorely missed.