Joe Spinell was an American actor of Italian origins. Born to Italian immigrant parents, Pellegrino Spagnuolo, and Filomena Spagnuolo, his birth name was Joseph J. Spagnuolo. However, he later changed his name to Joe Spinell for the ease of pronunciation in his acting career. Joe was born on 28 October 1936 and was the last of six elder siblings. He was born in Kip’s Bay in Manhattan at his family’s apartment on 566, Second Avenue. The area was known to house about 10,000 Italian American immigrants at the time. Joe remained active in his acting career from 1972-1989 till his death. He expired when he was 52 on January 13, 1989, in an uncanny manner and is lying at the Calvary Cemetery in Queens,
. Joe’s inclination to acting started at the tender age of nine when he joined the Madison Square Boys Club. The club, located on 29 Street in Manhattan, had a drama club, which drew in Joe and he used to take part in various bits and flicks. He was always interested in movies and the business of it all.
According to his sister, when he was a child, he could always be found at the movies, be they of any genre. Joe had a rough childhood. When he was just 16, his father, Pellegrino died of liver and kidney disease. His eldest brother was a mental patient and could not work. The sustenance of the family came from the work of his sister and another brother along with his mother who was a bit-part actress. Filomena Spagnuolo was a minor artist who did small roles in movies and shows and did a few roles with her son too in later life. While he was in high school, Joe acted in a few plays on and off Broadway. His work eventually got a little noticed, and he was signed on by MGM for a performing contract. Joe worked for nine years with the group which was called “Theatre of the Forgotten.” It was here that Joe changed his name to Spinell from Spagnuolo. However, the pay was not sufficient, and he had to take up part-time jobs alongside the acting. These included being a liquor store clerk, a taxi-driver, and even a post-office clerk. Joe got noticed for his acting skills after his role in “The Godfather.”
At the time, Joe was juggling with a lot of jobs alongside acting in small stage roles, when his sister succeeded in getting him an audition for the movie. Because of his burly and imposing looks, he was immediately cast for the role of ‘Willy Cici’, a menacing hitman. After the part, he was often cast in mafia and gangster roles because of his natural looks and deep-seated voice with the New York accent. His most appreciated roles followed and include parts in “The Godfather II” and the “
” series. He also appeared in a few television roles including appearances on “Vampire” and “
.” Individually, Joe was recognized to be one of the very few selfless actors who would do anything for his friends. He supported
before his fame days and used to provide him with food and shelter. He was also the godfather to Sylvester Stallone’s son, Sage Stallone. However, Spinell was also known to excessive drinking and drug abuse especially in moments of professional or personal failures. He was also hemophilic and suffered from chronic asthma. Joe married an adult film star, Jean Jennings in the year 1977. But, the marriage was short-lived, and she eventually left him in the year 1979. Although they had a daughter from the wedding, Spinell was unable to get custody of the child. Joe Spinell’s most notable work was the movie “The Maniac” which released in 1980. He portrayed the role of the protagonist, a serial killer named Frank Zito, who killed women and used their scalps to adorn his collected mannequins. Not only did he act in the movie, but he also co-wrote the script.
Joe always wanted to make a sequel to this picture and consequently shot a 10-minute promo reel with his buddy, Giovinazzo titled “Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie” which released in 1986. However, the movie never got made following Joe’s death in 1989. Joe Spinell’s death is considered to be a vague event and is unclear whether it was an accidental, natural or deliberate death. Some accounts say that he accidentally cut himself in the shower on the morning of January 13, 1989, and refusing to call for help, bled to death due to his hemophilic condition. Others say that the cut was deliberate. Further, more accounts attribute his death to a heart attack caused by his excessive drug abuse and the emotional struggle of losing his mother who died in 1987. His death has been a source of mystery. However, his work has been a known testament to excellence and commitment.