Joe Spinell

Joe Spinell

Spinell on the set of The Godfather (1972).
Born Joseph J. Spagnuolo
(1936-10-28)October 28, 1936
Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
Died January 13, 1989(1989-01-13) (aged 52)
Queens, New York City, New York, United States
Resting place Calvary Cemetery, Queens
Residence Queens, New York City, New York
Other names Joe "Maniac" Spinell
Joseph Spinell
Joe Spinnel
Joe Spinnell
Occupation Actor, screenwriter
Years active 1972–1989
Home town Queens, New York City, New York
Spouse(s) Jean Jennings (February 1977–July 1979)
Children 1
Relatives Steve Spagnuolo

Joe Spinell (born Joseph J. Spagnuolo; October 28, 1936 – January 13, 1989) was an American character actor, who appeared in numerous films in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as various stage productions on and off Broadway.[1] His notable roles included performances in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), Rocky (1976), Taxi Driver (1976), William Friedkin's Sorcerer (1977) and Cruising (1980), and the cult horror film Maniac (1980), which he also wrote.

Life and career

Spinell was born Joseph J. Spagnuolo (Italian pronunciation: [spaˈɲɲwɔlo]) in Manhattan, New York, of Italian immigrant parents, and the last of six children. His father, Pelegrino Spagnuolo (1892–1950), died from liver and kidney disease. His mother, Filomena Spagnuolo (1903–1987), was a bit-part actress who acted in a few movies, some of them alongside her son.[2] Spinell stood 5 foot and 11 inches. He was born at his family's apartment on Second Avenue in Manhattan's Kip's Bay, an area then home to 10,000 Italian Americans.[3] A few years after the death of his father, he moved with his mother and older siblings to Woodside, Queens, New York where he lived off-and-on for the remainder of his life. He was known to abuse drugs and alcohol heavily on and off throughout his career, especially during periods of unemployment. Spinell also suffered most of his life from hemophilia as well as chronic asthma.

Because of his large, heavyset frame and imposing looks, Spinell was often cast as criminals, thugs, or corrupt police officers. As a teenager and young adult, Spinell starred in various stage plays, both on and off Broadway.[4] His most notable film roles were as mafioso Willie Cicci in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, and as loan shark Tony Gazzo in Rocky and Rocky II. Although primarily known as a character actor, Spinell co-wrote and starred as a serial killer in the 1980 film, Maniac.[5]

Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie was a 1986 horror short promotional film shot by Joe Spinell to raise financing for a sequel to Spinell's 1980 horror film Maniac.[6] The short film was included with the 30th anniversary edition release of Maniac.[7] The feature-length version of the film was never shot after Spinell's death in 1989.[6]

Towards the end of his life, most of his appearances in films were small parts or cameo appearances. His very last film role was a supporting part in the low-budget 1989 action-thriller Rapid Fire (not to be confused with a similar titled film starring Brandon Lee), which was directed by David A. Prior and filmed on location in Mobile, Alabama a few weeks before his death.

Personal life

Spinell was married to adult film star Jean Jennings (1957-2011) from February 1977 to July 1979. Together they had one daughter, but they eventually divorced (this was referenced for Spinell's role in the 1980 film Cruising, where his brutal, closeted NYPD patrolman talks about how his wife had abandoned him by taking their child and leaving for Florida, which is very similar to what actually happened to Spinell right before he began filming this role). A close friend of Sylvester Stallone, Spinell was the godfather of his late son Sage Stallone. He was the distant cousin of New York Giants assistant defensive coach Steve Spagnuolo.


Joe Spinell died in his apartment located off of Greenpoint Avenue in Sunnyside, Queens, New York on January 13, 1989 at the age of 52. Sometime during that morning, he cut himself badly on his glass shower stall door after apparently slipping in his bathtub while showering and soon afterward fell asleep on his couch instead of calling for help, his hemophilia causing him to bleed to death. His body was found by his friend Sal Sirchia. Sirchia had phoned Spinell that morning and was told of the injury and his refusal of treatment. Sirchia became concerned when he tried calling Spinell from his workplace at around noon and there was no answer. In the late afternoon, Sirchia left work at the end of his shift and drove to Spinell's apartment. After no one answered the front door, Sirchia called the building superintendent, who entered Spinell's apartment, where they both found Spinell dead on his living room couch. Wearing only a bathrobe, Spinell bled to death over part of the couch from an apparent deep cut on the back of his head.

Spinell was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens near his home.



Feature films
Year Film Role Notes
1972 The Godfather Willie Cicci Uncredited
1973 The Seven-Ups Toredano
1974 The Godfather Part II Willie Cicci
1975 Rancho Deluxe Mr. Coleson
Farewell, My Lovely Nick
92 in the Shade Ollie Slatt
1976 Next Stop, Greenwich Village Cop
Taxi Driver Personnel Officer
Stay Hungry Jabo
Rocky Tony Gazzo
1977 Sorcerer Spider
1978 Big Wednesday Psychologist
Paradise Alley Burp
Nunzio Angelo
The One Man Jury Mika Abatino
1979 Starcrash Count Zarth Arn
Last Embrace Man in Cantina Uncredited
Winter Kills Arthur Fletcher
Rocky II Tony Gazzo
1980 Cruising Patrolman DiSimone
The Little Dragons Yancy
Maniac Frank Zito
Forbidden Zone Squeezeit's Father
Brubaker Floyd Birdwell
The Ninth Configuration Lt. Spinell
Melvin and Howard Go-Go Club Owner Uncredited
The First Deadly Sin Charles Lipsky
Nighthawks Lt. Munafo
1982 National Lampoon Goes to the Movies Talent Agent/Beauty Show M.C. Segment: "Success Wanters"
Night Shift Manetti
The Last Horror Film Vinny Durand also known as Fanatic
Monsignor Bride's Father
1983 Losin' It U.S. Customs Policeman
The Last Fight The Boss
Walking the Edge Brusstar
Vigilante Eisenberg
1984 Eureka Pete
1986 The Whoopee Boys Guido Antonucci
Hollywood Harry Max Caldwell
Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie Mr. Robbie Short film
1987 The Pick-up Artist Eddie
Deadly Illusion Hit Man
1988 Married to the Mob Leonard 'Tiptoes' Mazzilli Scenes deleted
Operation Warzone Delevane
The Undertaker Roscoe
1989 Rapid Fire Hanson


Year Title Role Notes
1975 Strike Force Sol Terranova
1977 The Godfather Saga Willie Cicci
1979 Vampire Captain Desher
1980 Nightside Michael Vincent
1983 Trackdown: Finding the Goodbar Killer Escobar
1985 Out of the Darkness Jim Halsey
1986 The Equalizer Mob Boss Episode #1.16 'Wash Up'
1986 The Children of Times Square Street Vendor
1986 Blood Ties Joey
1986-1987 Night Heat Various roles 3 episodes


  1. "Joe Spinell". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-04.
  2. "Joe Spinell". NNDB. Retrieved 2011-05-04.
  3. "History of The Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary". Parish of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  4. David Gregory (2001). The Joe Spinell Story (DVD).
  5. Vincent Canby (January 31, 1981). "Maniac". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-04.
  6. 1 2 Janisse, Kier-La (June 21, 2013). "THE GENTLE MANIAC: Buddy Giovinazzo Remembers Original "MANIAC" Joe Spinell". Fangoria.
  7. Dahlke, Kurt (October 13, 2010). "Maniac - 30th Anniversary Edition". DVD Talk.

External links

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