Joe Viterelli, 66; Actor’s Mobster Look Won Him More Than 40 Film Roles

Times Staff Writer

Joe Viterelli, a hulking character actor whose memorable mug typecast him in a string of mobster roles, most notably in the comedies “Analyze This” and “Analyze That,” has died. He was 66.

Viterelli, a West Los Angeles resident, died Jan. 29 of complications from heart surgery at Valley Hospital in Las Vegas.

Viterelli’s name may not be familiar, but his fleshy mug, which a New York Daily News writer once described as a “Rent-a-Wreck face,” was unforgettable.


Over the last dozen years, Viterelli had appeared in more than 40 movies, playing guys with such names as Nick Valenti (“Bullets Over Broadway”), Joe Profaci (“Mobsters”), Fat Tommy Carducci (“What She Doesn’t Know”), Vinnie “The Shrimp” (“Mickey Blue Eyes”) and Fat Tony Ragoni (“Cure for Boredom”). He also had a supporting role in “Shallow Hal” and played Joseph Valachi in “Ruby.”

Viterelli can be seen in a Staples TV commercial in which he provides mob-style “muscle” for an office worker who is having a problem dealing with a manager who demands doughnuts and pastry bribes in exchange for dispensing office supplies.

The humorous spot, which debuted during the Super Bowl, was Viterelli’s only commercial.

The former New York and Los Angeles businessman was amused by his late-blooming acting career.

“Ninety percent of my fan mail is from kids 6 through 19,” he told the New York Daily News in 2000. “They send me graduation pictures and report cards. Look at me, I’m a role model.”

Growing up in a tough neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Viterelli told the New York Daily News, he played classical guitar -- not that he told his pals about it. “They woulda thought I was a sissy,” he said.

“I used to save my hard-robbed money and sneak off to Carnegie Hall and Broadway theaters.”

While in his 20s, he said, he inherited four music schools in Queens that had been started by his family. “I actually taught classical guitar. But things went wrong. Then I opened a few bars. I drove a truck. I owned a cleaning service. I even had a job drilling holes in bowling balls to feed my five kids.”

He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1970s.

While living in Malibu, Viterelli told the Chicago Tribune in 1999, he became friends with director Leo Penn, who saw the screen possibilities in Viterelli’s tough-guy visage.

“He asked me to be in some movies and TV, but I always declined,” said Viterelli. “I said, ‘For half my life, I’ve been keeping a low profile and now you want to put my mug on a 40-foot screen?’ ”

Years later, Viterelli got a call from Penn’s actor son, Sean, who was in New York to make the 1990 gangster melodrama “State of Grace.”

Viterelli recalled: “He said, ‘Joe, we’re looking for a character that’s from your neighborhood. We’ve seen about 50 to 60 people and nobody’s right.’ He said the key words, ‘Would you do me a favor?’ ”

Viterelli did and, proving to be a natural actor, launched his new career.

In 1999, he played Jelly, the menacing yet lovable henchman-confidant to Robert De Niro’s anxiety-prone mob boss in “Analyze This,” costarring Billy Crystal as De Niro’s reluctant psychiatrist.

When he described Viterelli’s Jelly character patiently padding about “trying to deal with the disturbing news that his boss is cracking up and seeing a shrink,” critic Roger Ebert wrote, “He lends a subtle dimension to the movie; he gives [De Niro’s mob boss] a context, and someone who understands him. The comedy here isn’t all on the surface, and Viterelli is one reason why.”

He is survived by his wife, Catherine, and five children.