When Danny Aiello crossed paths with yours truly in 1974, there was no conception who was on the microphone up in a small press box calling plays as the public address announcer at a DeWitt Clinton High School football game.
That voice was clear and distinguished and could be heard all over Paul Avenue and a block away on Mosholu Parkway.. He was very professional and at the time not the well known actor that he would become.
His two sons played football for the school, Danny and Rick ,who yours truly also got to know. Danny Aiello III died of pancreatic cancer in 2010 at the age of 53.
That loss for Aiello was difficult as was the early struggle and stumbling on a career that led to over 100 roles on the screen and the stage.
And today we sadly mourn his passing, 86-years of age after an illness. His big break, “Do The Right Thing” the Spike Lee film that earned him an Academy Award nomination in 1989. He was Sal the owner of a Brooklyn pizza shop and tried to keep peace in the community.
Thing is, Danny Aiello always did the right thing. From those days in the press box, a man who asked for a penny or a nickel, to his success, Danny Aiello was always there for the community, He was there for friends and a loyal role model to his wife of 64 years, sons, and grandchildren.
He never changed. He was my role model up in that press box. He guided me to do the same PA announcing as his acting schedule called on him. Directors and producers called on him and often.
He said then, in 1975, “You have a future as an announcer.” He started to follow me as a cub sports reporter in the Bronx and appreciated the devotion and covering high school athletes for the Bronx weekly newspapers.
They know, as yours truly did as a 17-year old in the Bronx, that Danny Aiello was going to be a hit. He wasn’t shy to ask for a nickle or a cigarette. He always said there would be a day he would not forget and return the favor.
He never forgot. And, Danny Aiello always remembered the community. His late mother was admitted to Providence Rest Nursing Home. He felt there was need to do better there and later became a Board of Director member at Providence Rest over in Throgs Neck.
Sports was his passion when not on the set.
“My Yankees, what’s wrong,” he said a few years ago as we met at Yankee Stadium. His nephew, Bronx native Michael Kay, is the voice of the Yankees on the YES Network and hosts a successful afternoon sports program on ESPN Radio.
Kay was in tears as he paid tribute to “Uncle Danny” Friday afternoon. It was Danny Aiello who pitched and believed in his nephew. Must run in the family because Danny Aiello was an avid sports fan and was also seen many times at ringside watching a fight at Madison Square Garden and the Barlcays Center in Brooklyn.
He always did the right thing, so appropriate and many years before the movie hit the big screen.
That was Danny Aiello, born in Manhattan but the Bronx and the people he met were always in his heart.
In many ways, this career was fit for me. You never know what will transpire as time goes on. But that day up in a small high school press box was one that gave me the opportunity to speak out loud.
Danny Aiello, as he did for many and yours truly was an inspiration. God Bless and Rest In peace. The The New York Extra offers prayers and condolences to the Aiello family, friends, and those who knew him over the years in the entertainment industry.
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The DeWitt Clinton HIgh School graduate, a school at the end of the Grand Concourse also known as “The Castle” because of distinguished alumni in all walks of life, was a proud alumnus who was instrumental in staging more than 30 plays and musicals on Broadway in four decades.
“I see the potential in so many here in the Bronx,” Simon said when he was awarded by the DeWitt Clinton Alumni Association. He was one of the many at the time that graduated at the age of 16. And from Clinton it was either NYU or City College of New York. He chose NYU and from there the rest is history.
Simon in 1983 was the only living playwright who had a theater named after him on Broadway, “The Neil Simon Theater.”
But his “Odd Couple” play, later an Emmy award winning television series, was Neil Simon and the creativity that consumed the entertainment world for years and still seen in syndication.
He was 91 years of age and passed away Monday morning in New York City with complications from pneumonia.