The Late, Great Danny Aiello Knew How to Steal a Scene


The widely admired character actor won't soon be forgotten.

The best actors know how their expressions, movements and delivery of dialogue will look and sound on screen.

Sometimes it takes just the right facial gesture or shift in tone to, for instance, add depth or tension to a scene, or draw an emotional reaction from the audience.

The late, great Danny Aiello–who passed away suddenly last week at 86–commanded every frame of film he was in by offering meaningful performances, typically through angst or empathy.

Born on June 20, 1933, in New York City, Aiello endured a difficult childhood, Deadline reports. His father Daniel abandoned the family, and his mother Frances, a seamstress, would later lose her eyesight. Aiello falsified his age to join the U.S. Army at 16 and served for several years before returning to the city. He bounced from job to job, before turning to acting.

These formative experiences fed into his craft, and no one could do it like Danny.

Have a look:

Moonstruck: Aiello awkwardly channels “Johnny’s” doting love for Cher “Loretta” as he proposes. His hushed and measured dialogue, and nervous behavior make the scene relatable.

Do the Right Thing: Through Aiello, the audience can feel Sal’s prejudicial rage, as the character grapples with a changing Brooklyn neighborhood.

The Godfather, Part II (Tony Rosato): “Michael Corleone says hello!” As Aiello delivers the line with a sinister gangster cadence, we see and feel the dread wash over Frankie Pentangeli’s face.

29th Street: Frank Pesce, Sr. Enough said.

Papa Don’t Preach: Last but not least, Aiello plays Madonna’s father in the hit music video. Despite having no dialogue, Aiello’s love, affection and pain are palpable.

Goodbye Danny, you’ll be missed.

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