For fans of MTV’s Jackass squad, you either felt sorry for the obese, apparently slow and almost always drunk Don Vito Margera or you thought he was hilarious.
The perpetually confused Don Vito was the subject of frequent and humiliating pranks by his famous nephew, Bam Margera, whose abuse was the cornerstone of his post-Jackass show Viva La Bam. And on Sunday, the man whose face and name haven’t been heard or seen in nearly a decade has died.
Don Vito was 59.
Bam’s mother, April, confirmed the news, according to Rolling Stone. She said he’d suffered from liver and kidney failure in recent years and, in October, slipped into a coma (which reportedly occurred in his Pennsylvania home, Entertainment Tonight added).
Don Vito woke up from the coma, but his health continued to decline afterward.
“He put up a good fight,” she told CNN. “But he died this morning at 6:45 a.m. at Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pennsylvania.”
Bam Margera didn’t comment on his uncle’s death, but Johnny Knoxville — who turned asinine but no less comical pranks into an acting career — offered his condolences on Twitter.
RIP Don Vito. You will be missed.❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/YwhNdAAPA8— Johnny Knoxville (@realjknoxville) November 15, 2015
But not many others joined together in a chorus of grief. The death of Don Vito, who would never have been famous if not for Jackass, didn’t die in obscurity. Instead, people with long memories of why he disappeared from the public eye in 2007 have pointed out Margera’s disturbing criminal record.
The Washington Post made note of this scandal and the strange punishment that resulted. At an autograph signing in Lakewood, Colorado, in 2006, the unlikely star — whose real name is Vincent, hence the nickname “Don Vito” — was arrested for allegedly groping two girls. One was 14, and the other 12.
While Don Vito was rarely on his best behavior on screen, somehow that persona seemed fabricated — he was, after all, part of a reality show that may well have been scripted. But the prosecutor offered an all-too-real, and therefore much more depressing, account of that event.
“This man was out of control during this public event,” prosecutor Jim Stanley said. “He was so intoxicated that he peed his pants while with these children.”
Oddly, Don Vito’s lawyer argued that the fans only got what they paid for. Speaking about Don Vito as if he was a character and not a real person, Pamela Mackey said at the time that everyone had come to see the crazy, outrageous, profane uncle that day.
“That’s who they wanted their picture taken with. Fans expected to see Don Vito, not Vincent Margera… You may find the behavior vulgar and disgusting, but it was done to amuse, to entertain, to get a laugh.”
In an odd twist, Don Vito wasn’t sent to jail after he was found guilty of two counts sexual assault on a child. (When Don Vito learned his fate, he collapsed and shouted ” You might as well kill me now!”) The judge sentenced him to 10 years probation, to register as a sex offender, and told him he couldn’t play Don Vito on TV for a decade.
Of course, as the Post pointed out, Don Vito was playing himself. The vulgar, oft-drunk, bumbling character was the real thing. But Don Vito kept his word. He last appeared in Vito and Dunn’s Rock Tour, sadly starring another recently deceased Jackass alum, Ryan Dunn, who died in 2011 in an alcohol-related car accident.
Don Vito pretty much disappeared after that, except for Bam’s mention of him in 2012 after his uncle was the subject of a civil suit, which hinted at where the former star had ended up.
“Guess what, lady? [Don] Vito doesn’t have any f**king money. He has a red Ford Ranger and that’s it.”
After confirming his death, April took a moment to redeem Don Vito a bit, mentioning that the reality TV star said on his death bed last week that he never touched those girls in Colorado. He also said “that he wanted everyone to know it was a good ride. He enjoyed himself and wanted to thank all the fans.”
[Photo By Evan Agostini / Getty Images]