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Alex Rocco, the veteran tough-guy character actor with the gravelly voice best known for playing mobster and Las Vegas casino owner Moe Greene in The Godfather, has died. He was 79.
Rocco died Saturday afternoon of cancer at his home in Studio City, his son, Sean, said.
Rocco, who studied acting with the late Leonard Nimoy, a fellow Boston-area transplant, also was the voice of Roger Meyers Jr., the cigar-smoking chairman of the studio behind “Itchy and Scratchy” on The Simpsons, and he played Arthur Evans, the father of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, on the stylish Starz series Magic City.
“For those of us lucky enough to get to know Rocco, we were blessed,” Morgan said in a statement. “He gave the best advice, told the best and dirtiest jokes and was the first to give you a hug and kiss when it was needed. To know Roc was to love Roc. He will be missed greatly. There is a little less magic in the world today. Rest in peace, ‘Pops.’ Love and miss you madly.”
Rocco starred as a white Detroit detective who is reluctantly paired with a black detective (Hari Rhodes) in Arthur Marks’ Detroit 9000 (1973) and voiced an ant in A Bug’s Life (1998). “That was my greatest prize ever in life, because I did about eight lines as an ant, and I think I made over a million dollars,” he said in a 2012 interview.
Rocco won an Emmy Award in 1990 for best supporting actor in a comedy for playing sneaky Hollywood talent agent Al Floss on the short-lived CBS series The Famous Teddy Z, starring Jon Cryer.
He also had regular roles on The Facts of Life (as Charlie Polniaczek, the father of Nancy McKeon’s character, Jo), The George Carlin Show (Simpsons producer Sam Simon was the showrunner on that series), Three for the Road, Sibs and The Division.
In the 2012 interview, Rocco said that landing the role of Jewish mobster Moe in The Godfather (1972) was “without a doubt, my biggest ticket anywhere. I mean that literally.”
“When I got the part, I went in to Francis Ford Coppola, and in those days, the word was, ‘Read [Mazio Puzo’s] book,’ which I already did, and then the actor would suggest to him which part they would like. Well, I went for … I dunno, one of the Italian parts. Maybe the Richard Bright part [Al Neri]. But Coppola goes, ‘I got my Jew!’ And I went, ‘Oh no, Mr. Coppola, I’m Italian. I wouldn’t know how to play a Jew.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, shut up.’ [Laughs.] He says, ‘The Italians do this,’ and he punches his fingers up. ‘And the Jews do this,’ and his hand’s extended, the palm flat. Greatest piece of direction I ever got. I’ve been playing Jews ever since.”
“And people on the golf course will say, ‘Hey, Alex, would you call my dad and leave a line from The Godfather?’ I say, ‘OK. “I buy you out, you don’t buy me out!” “He was bangin’ cocktail waitresses two at a time …” “Don’t you know who I am?” ’ [Laughs.] But I enjoy doing it. It’s fun. I’ve been leaving Moe Greene messages for 40 years.”
Born Alexander Federico Petricone Jr. in Cambridge, Mass., Rocco grew up in the tough Winter Hill section of Boston as “a kind of wannabe gangster,” he once said. In the early 1960s, he flipped a coin to see where he would move (either Miami or Los Angeles), and it came up L.A.
Rocco tended bar at the Raincheck Room, a hangout in West Hollywood for actors, and made his movie debut in Motorpsycho! (1965), directed by Russ Meyer. He later talked himself into a role as a henchman on Batman in the 1967 episodes in which the Dynamic Duo meet up with The Green Hornet and Kato (the chief villain was Roger C. Carmel).
Years later, he voiced mobster Carmine Falcone in the animated Batman: Year One (2011).
Rocco had no trouble being typecast as bad guys, he said in a 2011 interview.
“Playing gangsters is great,” he said. “They usually dress you sharp. And you have a license to pretty much bully anybody. I mean, I wouldn’t dare do that at home. My wife will give me a back hander.”
Rocco worked frequently with Alan Arkin, being paired with him on such films as Freebie and the Bean (1974), Hearts of the West (1975), Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975) and Fire Sale (1977).
His film résumé also includes The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Joan Rivers’ Rabbit Test (1978), The Stunt Man (1980), Herbie Goes Bananas (1980), The Pope Must Diet (1991), Get Shorty (1995), That Thing You Do! (1996), as Jennifer Lopez‘s father in The Wedding Planner (2001), Smokin’ Aces (2006) and Sidney Lumet‘s Find Me Guilty (2006).
He recently showed up on Episodes (as Matt LeBlanc’s father) and Maron (as another agent).
“Alex was a wonderful actor to work with. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs,” LeBlanc said in a statement.
In addition to his son Sean, survivors include his wife Shannon; another son Lucien; daughters Kelli and Jennifer; grandchildren Anthony, Kiran, Sarame and Ravi; and sister Vivian.
Magic City creator Mitch Glazer in a statement called Rocco “a throwback, stand-up guy, the kind of man I had only seen in the movies.
“I will miss the Sunday late-afternoon phone calls after his beloved Patriots had stomped my beleaguered Dolphins. ‘Hey buddy. Let’s roll it over. Double or nothing on the next one.’ I spoke with Alex just last week. Before we hung up, he insisted we make our bet for the first Fins-Pats game of the coming season. And Rocco, trust me, I will pay up.”
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