Danny Aiello, the New York-born film and stage actor who earned an Academy Award nomination for his role as a pizzeria owner in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” died on Thursday. He was 86.
His death was confirmed by Jennifer De Chiara, a literary agent, in an email.
In Mr. Lee’s 1989 film, about a white business in the predominantly black Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, Mr. Aiello was a morally complicated racist villain, willing to wield a baseball bat but sentimental about the young people in the neighborhood having grown up on his food.
He won the role after having established himself as a memorable character actor in films including “Moonstruck” (1987), in which he played Cher’s kind but clueless fiancé; “Fort Apache: The Bronx” (1981), as a ruthless police officer who throws a young man off a rooftop; Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984), also as a police officer; and three films involving Woody Allen.
He was cast as a bookie in the 1950s blacklist drama “The Front” (1976), in which Mr. Allen starred, and as Mia Farrow’s short-tempered husband in “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985) and a Mafia hit man in “Radio Days” (1987), both of which Mr. Allen directed. He also played a frustrated 1940s waiter and family man, opposite Bea Arthur, in Mr. Allen’s 1981 play, “The Floating Light Bulb.”
In “Do the Right Thing” (1989), Mr. Aiello’s character, Sal, has owned his pizzeria in the neighborhood for 25 years and refuses to leave, even as racial tensions intensify. He was nominated for best supporting actor at the Academy Awards for the role.
A full obituary will be published shortly.
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