Alex Rocco, a veteran character actor who secured a place in movie history playing the doomed mobster Moe Greene in “The Godfather,” died Saturday at his Studio City home. He was 79.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his stepson, Sean Doyle.
Rocco’s prolific 50-year career included voicing the role of jaded cartoon mogul Roger Meyers Jr. in “The Simpsons” animated series and his 1990 Emmy-winning portrayal of a smarmy talent agent in the short-lived sitcom “The Famous Teddy Z.”
Most fans, however, knew Rocco in the role of a cop, gangster or other tough guy, an identity cemented by his work in Part I of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic about the fictional Corleone crime family.
Based on infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel, Greene is the Las Vegas casino owner whose partnership with the Corleones ends badly: He is murdered with a shot through the eye during a stomach-churning slew of revenge killings at the end of the film.
In a memorable scene before Greene’s violent death, Michael Corleone, the heir to his family’s crime syndicate played by Al Pacino, tells the gaming kingpin that his family wants to buy him out.
Michael: I leave for New York tomorrow, think about a price.
Moe Greene: Do you know who I am? I’m Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!
Playing Greene was “my biggest ticket anywhere,” Rocco said in a recent interview on the entertainment website avclub.com.
“I had no idea what Moe Greene was gonna do for me,” Rocco said in the interview. “There was an off-Broadway play, ‘Who Shot Moe Greene?’ There was a Moe Greene’s Bakery. Alec Baldwin did Moe Greene on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Billy Crystal opened up the Academy Awards once, saying, ‘I just ran into Moe Greene outside.’ It just doesn’t die down.”
Rocco was born Alessandro Federico Petricone in Cambridge, Mass., on Feb. 29, 1936. A ninth-grade dropout, he worked as a bookie in Boston and described himself as a “degenerate” gambler. “I’d bet on anything,” he once told The Times, “and I’d lose.”
He was approaching 30 when he decided to attend an acting class to meet women. He discovered that he loved acting.
After moving to Hollywood, he took a class taught by Leonard Nimoy who kicked Rocco out because no one could understand his thick Boston accent. “And he did it in front of 30 people — I hated him for that,” Rocco recalled in The Times in 1989.
Undaunted, Rocco enrolled in a speech class. He learned to replace his Boston inflections with a New York accent, which Nimoy found acceptable. In 1965, Rocco made his screen debut in a low-budget exploitation film, director Russ Meyer’s “Motorpsycho!”
Over the next decades, he appeared in more than 130 films and TV episodes. His movie credits include “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “Cannonball Run II” and “The Wedding Planner.” In the animated film “A Bug’s Life,” he voiced the character of Thorny the ant.
On television, his credits include episodes of “Murphy Brown,” “Baretta,” “Walker Texas Ranger” and “The George Carlin Show.” He had a recurring role on the long-running 1980s sitcom “The Facts of Life,” one of three series in which he was cast as the father of a character played by actress Nancy McKeon. (The other two were “The Division” and “Can’t Hurry Love.”)
His last recurring role was in the Starz network drama “Magic City,” in which he played the father of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a Miami resort owner.
He enjoyed being recognized by fans, who often greeted him on the street with his lines from “The Godfather,” “The Simpsons” and “A Bug’s Life.”
“A lot of times he would meet people with sons in Afghanistan,” said his wife, actress Shannon Wilcox. “They would mention, ‘My son loved you in that, would you call him?’ He would talk to so many young soldiers and do his dialogue. He was always happy to do it.”
Besides Wilcox, Rocco is survived by two children from a previous marriage, Jennifer Rocco and Lucien Rocco; stepchildren Sean Doyle and Kelli Williams; a sister, Vivian De Simone; and four grandchildren.