By:  Jeff D’Alessio

The first time Danny Aiello met the biggest critic in show business, he was 55, with far more miles logged driving a Greyhound bus for a living than working as a paid actor.
It was March 25, 1990, lunchtime, and the Beverly Hills Hotel was buzzing on the eve of the 62nd Academy Awards.
“I was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the role of Sal in ‘Do The Right Thing.’ At the time, I thought if I was nominated, how important could this award be?” Aiello told The News-Gazette.
Roger Ebert answered that question — and forever cured Aiello’s confidence issues — in one swoop.

“We were having lunch at the Polo Lounge and Roger says I should win,” Aiello said. “And if he had his way, I should be in the Best Actor Category — and he would still vote for me.”

Turns out, Aiello didn’t win the next night. (Another relative unknown — Denzel Washington — did for “Glory,” beating out a field of five that also included Marlon Brando). But the proud Italian, who didn’t make his film debut until age 40, was never the same bundle of nerves again.

Aiello’s filmography is at 96 roles (and, at age 80, still counting) — from the lead role in “The Last Don” to Madonna’s dad in the “Papa Don’t Preach” video.
But his biggest hit, and lone Oscar nod, remains “Do The Right Thing,” which director Spike Lee plans to present at Ebertfest next month in Champaign.
“Throughout my career Roger made me feel like I belonged,” Aiello said. “Starting at such a late age and never having studied, I needed positive feedback and I was fortunate enough to receive it from him.

“Thanks, Roger.”

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