‘Hudson Hawk’ Actor Danny Aiello Dies: Here Are Some of His Best Roles

Actor Danny Aiello passed away at age 86 on Thursday, December 12. His career spanned from The Godfather Part II to movies released just this year. He had roles in many all time classic movies, so it’s especially heartening to see fans single out Hudson Hawk as one of his best roles.

Danny Aiello
Danny Aiello | CBS via Getty Images

Here are some of the most memorable roles of the late Danny Aiello, including Hudson Hawk and why it’s so significant. Celebrate the memory of Danny Aiello with these classic films.

Danny Aiello sang in ‘Hudson Hawk’

In 1991 Hudson Hawk was a huge failure at the box office. It was Bruce Willis’s first personal project after the success of the first two Die Hards. Filming in Europe, the budget ballooned and 1991 audiences rejected the film. It was a musical action comedy in which Willis played a cat burglar and Aiello his partner.

Danny Aiello and Bruce Willis in Hudson Hawk | TriStar/Getty Images

1991 was not ready for Bruce Willis singing and dancing. Fortunately, over the years, the audience who got several more legitimate Die Hard sequels learned to embrace Willis’s absurd vision. Aiello does the duets “Swinging on a Star” and “Side By Side” as they rob a museum or storm a castle. How could anyone not want to see that! 

Danny Aiello was part of Spike Lee’s breakthrough ‘Do the Right Thing’ 

If Hudson Hawk is too silly for you (and really what’s not to love about such silliness?), Danny Aiello is most known for his dramatic work. By 1989, Spike Lee had already made She’s Gotta Have It and School Daze. Do the Right Thing became his rallying cry for peace, raising awareness of all the racial conflicts happening in society. 

Danny Aiello in Do the Right Thing
Danny Aiello as Sal | Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

Danny Aiello played Sal, the owner of the pizza place that became the center of Do the Right Thing. Mookie (Lee) worked for Sal. The film culminates in a riot outside of Sal’s. If you see Lee’s later film Red Hook Summer, Mookie still works for Sal’s although Aiello does not make a cameo.

Danny Aiello hired ‘The Professional’

Danny Aiello also played the partner to another action hero, but there was no song and dance like Hudson Hawk. Leon (Jean Reno) was the professional of the title, a cleaner, or in common parlance a hitman. Tony was the mobster who hired Leon for his missions.

Gary Oldman and Danny Aiello in The Professional | Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

So Tony became embroiled when Leon took in Mathilda (Natalie Portman) after Stansfield (Gary Oldman) killed her family. Killing is just business for Tony, but by the end Leon and Tony become caretakers to Mathilda.

His second film was the second ‘Godfather’

Only his second movie after Bang the Drum Slowly was a doozy, Francis Ford Coppola’s sequel to The Godfather. Danny Aiello played Tony Rosato, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino)’s rivals for the Brooklyn territory. 

Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II
Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II | Paramount/Getty Images

Godfather II was even more epic than the original with many considering it one of the rare sequels superior to its predecessor. The Rosatos were memorable rivals to the Corleone family and Aiello would play his fair share of Italian gangsters in his career.

Danny Aiello teamed up with Jackie Chan in ‘The Protector’

Perhaps one of the strangest films in Danny Aiello’s filmography is the 1985 cop movie The Protector. This was Jackie Chan’s second attempt at a Hollywood career after The Big Brawl. Third time would be the charm for Chan when Rush Hour became a hit in 1998.

The Protector was extra strange because it took all the comedy out of Jackie Chan. It was just a straight cop drama about mismatched partners teaming up to solve a case. Aiello played it straight as Chan’s American partner, but Chan was so disappointed with this film, he filmed new scenes for the Hong Kong release featuring more of his trademark action.

Nicolas Cage got his girl in ‘Moonstruck’

When you play the other man to Nicolas Cage, chances are you’re not going to get the girl. And this was 1988 Nicolas Cage at his dreamiest. In the Oscar winning romantic comedy Moonstruck, Loretta (Cher) is engaged to Johnny (Danny Aiello). While Johnny is visiting his dying mother in Sicily, his brother Ronny (Cage) falls in love with Loretta.

Most of Moonstruck is the courtship between Ronny and Loretta, with Loretta trying to convince ronny to “snap out of it.” There’d be no love triangle without Johnny though so Danny Aiello is an important ⅓ of what makes Moonstruck a classic. If you do like Hudson Hawk, Moonstruck has a little of that whimsical tone, but no musical numbers.

After JFK, Danny Aiello played Jack Ruby

Oliver Stone’s JFK reopened the mystery surrounding the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. One year later, Danny Aiello played Jack Ruby, the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald in the movie Ruby.

Danny Aiello as Jack Ruby | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Ruby was not the hit that JFK was so it did not become the phenomenon that Oliver Stone’s conspiracy theory was. Aiello gave it his all though and got a starring vehicle to take a character from beginning to end.