Danny Aiello Movies: Late Actor’s Career Included Roles In ‘The Godfather Part II’ & ‘Moonstruck’

Danny Aiello attends "Colin Quinn: The New York Story" Opening Night at Duet Brasserie on July 23, 2015 in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images

Danny Aiello was one of the most recognizable actors of his generation, with key roles in the Academy Award-winning films The Godfather Part II and Moonstruck. Aiello, who was nominated for a golden statuette in 1990 in the category of Best Supporting Actor for his work in the Spike Lee film Do the Right Thing, passed away at the age of 86 from a sudden illness.

Aiello was a familiar face to filmgoers, but it was his work in the motion pictures The Godfather Part II, Hudson Hawk, Moonstruck, Do the Right Thing, and Ruby, among others, that were most beloved by film fans.

Here are some little-known facts about some of the most iconic big-screen moments from the actor’s career, which lasted over 50 years.

Aiello Ad-Libbed His Famous Line From ‘The Godfather Part II’

In The Godfather Part II, the actor, in character as Tony Rosato, famously ad-libbed the line “Michael Corleone says hello” before killing the character of Frank Pentangeli. According to IMDB, the director of the film, Francis Ford Coppola, loved the improv and asked the actor to do it again in the retakes. Aiello would later claim that he was so nervous about working with the famed director that he didn’t hear himself when he said the line and did not even recall why he ad-libbed it in the first place.

Aiello’s Vocal Chops Were Put To Good Use For ‘Swinging On A Star’ Duet With Bruce Willis For ‘Hudson Hawk’

While many of Aiello’s fans knew he could carry a tune, they had never heard the actor sing on the big screen until a memorable duet with Bruce Willis for the film Hudson Hawk. The tune was performed by the twosome during a scene in the movie when they attempted a heist with the length of the song the exact time they needed to finish the job. It was an unexpected moment and one of the true gems of the 1991 film that also starred Andie MacDowell, James Coburn, David Caruso, Lorraine Toussaint, Frank Stallone, and Sandra Bernhard.

‘Moonstruck’ Proposal Scene Had Film Crew And Aiello In Stitches

According to IMDB, there is a pivotal scene in Moonstruck that sets the tone for the entire movie but reportedly turned into a laugh-fest for both Aiello and the crew. It is when Aiello, in character as bumbling mama’s boy Johnny Cammareri, drops to one knee in the Grand Ticino Restaurant to ask Loretta Castorini to be his wife. As he takes to the floor in slow motion, after Cher, as Loretta, admonishes him for not kneeling when he asks her to marry him, you can see Aiello begin to laugh. If you listen closely, you can quickly hear the crew laughing along with him during the otherwise serious scene.

Spike Lee Originally Wanted Robert De Niro For Aiello’s Role In ‘Do The Right Thing’

Spike Lee revealed in a CBC interview, available via YouTube, that Aiello was not his first choice for the role of pizzeria owner Sal for Do the Right Thing. Instead, Lee believed screen legend Robert De Niro to be a better fit for the role.

“A lot of times the way you want it isn’t necessarily the way it should be. For example with Do the Right Thing, my first choice to play [Italian-American pizzeria owner] Sal was Robert De Niro,” said Lee. “Now Robert’s one of the greatest film actors of all time but an actor of his stature and weight would have tipped the scale too much. So it worked out having Dan Aiello do that role and Robert De Niro saying he didn’t want to do it.”

Aiello Revealed He Left The Set During ‘Ruby’s’ Sexy Striptease Scene

In his book I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else, Aiello revealed he didn’t watch when actress Sherilyn Finn, who played stripper Sheryl Ann DuJean, a.k.a Candy Cane, shot an elaborate striptease scene for the film Ruby. Aiello revealed that the day the scene was filmed, he did not appear on set. According to the autobiography, when Finn asked him if he saw any of those scenes, the actor replied “I’m sure you were great.” He revealed that his old-fashioned attitudes toward women kept him away the day of filming.