The Bizarre Death of Godfather Actor, Joe Spinell

Blog Note:   Jill, are you familiar with the adult film star Jean Jennings? Joe was married to her in the late 70s.

My whole life’s like a book. I go shootin’, ridin’ and fishin’. Listen, I’m a roper, I’m a doper, I’m a lover, I’m a fighter, I’m a rodeo rider.   –Joe Spinell

It's good to be Willie Cicci!

It’s good to be Willie Cicci!

Actor Joe Spinell is best known for his role as Willie Cicci in Godfather 2, as well as the asthmatic loan shark who employs Rocky Balboa in the first Rocky movie. He was also popular in cop and gangster roles, and last but not least, his role as the slasher in 1980 in the really really bad B-movie “Maniac”. I rented it once in high school in the mid-80s, got through about 10 minutes before ejecting it and then watching something else.

During the lean years before Rocky, it’s been said that Joe took care of Stallone with food, lodgings and money. Joe was even the Godfather to Sly’s boy, Sage. Joe was once paid $150,000 to play a small role as a detective in Sly’s 1981 film “Nighthawks” also starring Billy Dee Williams.

I don’t even think of Maniac (1980) as a horror movie. The horrible thing is that people like this really exist.   –Joe

Joe’s beloved mother died in 1987, and it affected him tremendously. His mom was Filimina Spagnuolo and she was also an actor. They had even worked together on a few projects. However, after the death of his mother, Joe found little work, was suffering from depression and was hitting the drugs and sauce pretty hard.

Typical apartment buildings on Greenpoint Ave in Sunnyside, Queens, NY.

Typical apartment buildings on Greenpoint Ave in Sunnyside, Queens, NY.

Spinell was from Queens, NY, and by January 1989 he was living there in a typical apartment in Sunnyside on Greenpoint Ave. On the morning of his death, his close friend received a call from Joe. Joe had slipped in the shower and shattered the glass shower door, cutting himself on the back of his head and neck. He refused to go to the doctor preferring to wrap a towel around the wound(s). Joe fell asleep on the couch and bled to death. Joe had hemophilia also, so this decision led to his death. He was 52 years old.

Joe Spinnel was once married to adult film star Jean Jennings from 77 to 79. He left behind an impressive body of film work that stands as a testament to his talent and unique screen presence as a character actor. An ex-wife (Jean), a daughter by Jean, two brothers and a sister survived Joe.

At the time of his death, Joe was also working on a sequel to “Maniac” (dang, that would have been awesome! ;-0  Not.)

In 2001, a documentary was produced, succinctly titled “The Joe Spinell Story”. Many famous actors and celebs are interviewed and quoted in the film, as it discusses Joe’s great acting ability, great human qualities, etc. Joe was a great guy, there is no doubt. That makes his bizarre death that much more painful and sad.

Watch the entire film here: