Danny Aiello, best known for roles in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Moonstruck and The Godfather Part II, died Thursday at the age of 86. The renowned character actor passed away in a New Jersey medical facility following an unspecified sudden illness, according to his literary agent.
Aiello got his start starring with Robert De Niro in 1973’s baseball drama Bang the Drum Slowly. He continued making a name for himself the following year when he played mobster Tony Rosato in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather sequel. He ad-libbed the now-famous line, “Michael Corleone says hello!”
The actor was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance as Sal Francine, a Brooklyn pizzeria owner in Do the Right Thing, a film that chronicled race relations in the late ’80s. His character helped initiate the movie’s race riot after he shunned black celebrities on his restaurant’s beloved Wall of Fame. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for the same role.
In 1981, he won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children’s Programming for his appearance in the ABC Afterschool Special A Family of Strangers. Other notable television credits include Lady Blue (1985-86), Dellaventura (1997-98), the mini-series The Last Don (1997) and Difficult People (2017).
Aiello’s film credits include Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Harlem Nights (1989), Léon: The Professional (1994) and Lucky Number Slevin (2006).
Cher, the actor’s Moonstruck costar, reminisced about their time together in a tweet:
Aiello leaves behind his wife Sandy and four children.