Actor Danny Aiello has died at 86

PHOTO COURTESY Universal Pictures: Danny Aiello, second from left, with Spike Lee, John Turturro, and Richard Edson in a scene from "Do the Right Thing" (1989).

Beloved blue collar tough-guy actor Danny Aiello has died. He was 86.

Aiello will be remembered for his work in films including "Fort Apache, the Bronx," "The Godfather, Part II," "Once Upon a Time in America" and his Oscar-nominated role in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing."

"The family asks for privacy at this time," said Aiello's publicist Tracey Miller of Tracey Miller & Associates. She said he died Thursday night after a brief illness.

Aiello once worked as a union president. He got his first acting break in his thirties, and kept working for decades.

From AP's obituary:

His breakthrough, ironically, was as the hapless lover dumped by Cher in Norman Jewison's hit comedy "Moonstruck." His disillusion contributed to the laughter, and although he wasn't nominated for a supporting-role Oscar (Cher and Olympia Dukakis won in their categories), Aiello was inundated with movie offers.

"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."

From the New York Times:

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.

(…) 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. The performance brought him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

IMAGES: Courtesy Universal Pictures