‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Dirty Harry’ Star Reni Santoni Dies at 81

Seinfeld and Dirty Harry actor Reni Santoni has passed away at the age of 81. The actor was probably best known for his performances as Poppie and Chico González in the two shows, respectively. However, he also appeared in a variety of other television shows, including Hawaii Five-O, Hardcastle and McCormick, The Odd Couple, and others. Here’s a look back at Santoni’s time in Seinfeld and Dirty Harry.

Reni Santoni’s role in ‘Dirty Harry’

Harry Guardin, Reni Santoni, Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry
Harry Guardin, Reni Santoni, and Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry | FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

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Prior to Dirty Harry, Reni Santoni found his first big break appearing in The Pawnbroker, in which he played an anti-Semitic man attempting to sell a radio. He then appeared in Enter Laughing, before finally being picked up for Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry

Santoni worked alongside Clint Eastwood for the film. His role as Chico González saw him working directly with Eastwood as Dirty Harry’s rookie partner — chosen to work with Harry against Harry’s wishes. 

Santoni’s role in the iconic film landed him praise, and he is widely remembered for delivering the line, “No wonder they call him Dirty Harry; [he] always gets the sh*t end of the stick.”

After wrapping up his time as a Hollywood actor, Santoni, a New Yorker, began working on off-Broadway shows, including his own play, Raisin’ Hell in the Son

He played Poppie in ‘Seinfeld’

Jerry Seinfeld, Reni Santoni as Poppie, and Suzanne Snyder as Audrey in Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld, Reni Santoni as Poppie, and Suzanne Snyder as Audrey in Seinfeld | J. Delvalle/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

While no one can deny that Reni Santoni’s role as Chico González was a defining moment for the actor, Dirty Harry is far from the only major appearance Santoni made. In fact, he had a repeating character on Larry David’s Seinfeld

Seinfeld has a wide cast of often neurotic and bizarre characters who hold a variety of alienating or intense beliefs, and Santoni’s role as Poppie fit that bill perfectly. 

Poppie, the Italian pizza chef, was an unhygienic pro-life activist whose restaurant was shut down after Seinfeld witnessed him making a pizza without washing his hands after using the bathroom. 

In a later episode, Poppie gets into a heated argument with Elaine about abortion, prompted by Jerry. After the fight, Santoni’s character is rushed to the hospital. Poppie later returns to Seinfeld’s house, and winds up unknowingly peeing on his couch. 

This became something of a repeat gag when Poppie winds up peeing on George Costanza’s couch as well. 

Reni Santoni dies at 81 

Reni Santoni and Elaine May in Enter Laughing
Reni Santoni and Elaine May in Enter Laughing| FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

Reni Santoni passed away from natural causes on August 1, 2020. His passing was noted by television writer and producer, Tracy Newman, a close friend of Santoni’s. 

Newman wrote on Facebook, “Reni Santoni passed away yesterday morning. April 21, 1939-August 1, 2020. He had been sick for quite a while. Those of you who knew him know how funny he was, what a terrific actor, improviser, performer, etc. So brilliant. I loved him very much and will miss him terribly. Another great one is gone. I have a lot of wonderful pictures of him, and will post them over the next week. My heart goes out to his son, Nick, who has been such a comfort to Reni over that past five years or more.”

Clint Eastwood posted a photo of the two together on the set of Dirty Harry to commemorate the actor following his death.