Nick Apollo Forte, Actor in 'Broadway Danny Rose,' Dies at 81

Orion Pictures Corporation/Photofest
Nick Apollo Forte (right) with Woody Allen in the 1984 film 'Broadway Danny Rose'

A longtime performer in cabarets and on cruise ships, he played has-been Lou Canova in the classic 1984 movie.

Nick Apollo Forte, the veteran cruise-ship singer who portrayed Lou Canova, the fading lounge act with a big ego and an even bigger drinking problem, in Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose, has died. He was 81.

Forte died Wednesday in his hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut, his family announced

Forte was hired for the 1984 Orion Pictures release after Allen heard a recording of his comic tune "Scungilli Song" coming out of a jukebox in the Bronx, the singer recalled in a 2012 interview.

"I went in and I met with Woody and he looked at me up and down. I'm talking about 10 minutes," Forte noted. "He says, 'Could you do a movie with me?' I says, 'Yeah. No problem.' But let me tell you something, I never saw one of his movies. As a matter of fact, I don't really go nuts on a lot of his movies, especially the first one I really saw was a thing called Zelig. I went to the screening of it and sat back and said, 'Oh, my God, this is like a joke.'"

Allen wrote and directed Broadway Danny Rose and starred as the titular talent agent and personal manager, a character down on his luck just like Lou.

Forte performs "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" and "All of You" as well as two funny songs he wrote just for the movie — "Agita," about acid indigestion, and "My Bambina."

"Mr. Forte, whose first film this apparently is, gives an extraordinarily good performance as the large-egoed, small-talented Lou Canova, mostly by playing the role with total belief," Vincent Canby wrote in his review for The New York Times. "To see him wowing the over-50 nightclub patrons with his tear-stained versions of hits from yesteryear is both funny and endearing."

Forte said that Tony Bennett, Robert De Niro and "the other guy that did Moonstruck" — could he have meant Danny Aiello? — also were in contention for the role.

Born in Waterbury on June 14, 1938, Forte began his showbiz career as Nicky Redman at age 15. After opening for Della Reese at the Apollo Theater in 1957, he incorporated the Harlem venue into his stage name.

Forte, who also played the drums and keyboards and recorded several albums, spent a lifetime in cabarets and nightclubs and 15 years as a headliner on cruise ships that took him to Australia, New Zealand, China, Alaska and Hawaii.

He said he preferred gigs in small rooms. "Truthfully, I would rather play any day for 500-seater places than I would play outside concerts," he said. "It's not personalized. They're going to see me in a cabaret and they're going to say, 'My God, I could hear all the words. I could hear what he's talking about.' It's not a lot of noise out in the field or something like that."

His family took "comfort and pride in the fact that throughout his career, Nick only sang what he fondly referred to as 'happy songs.'"

Forte said he turned down work in The Sopranos — "Every other word was F-you, F-this. I may be a proud Italian American, but I don't use that kind of language" — but did appear as a guy named Gaslight Johnny Tomorrow on ABC's The Ellen Burstyn Show in 1987 and as himself on Showtime's Billions in 2016.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Rosalie; daughters Robin, Carmel, Lynn and Shelly; sons Nicholas, Mark and Jeffery; siblings Aurelia and Frank; 21 grandchildren; and two great- grandchildren.

Memorial contributions in his name may be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital or the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.