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Joe Viterelli, 66; actor was the muscles in mobster movies

LOS ANGELES -- 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," died Jan. 29 of complications from heart surgery at Valley Hospital here. He was 66.

Mr. 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 past dozen years, Mr. Viterelli appeared in more than 40 movies, playing guys with names such 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."

Mr. Viterelli is in a current Staples TV commercial in which he provides mob-style "muscle" for an office worker who is having a problem dealing with an office supply manager, who demands doughnut bribes in exchange for dispensing office supplies.

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

The former New York City 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, Mr. Viterelli told the Daily News, he played classical guitar -- not that he told his pals about it. "I used to save my hard-robbed money and sneak off to Carnegie Hall and Broadway theaters," he said.

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 the Los Angeles area in the late 1970s. While living in Malibu, Mr. Viterelli told the Chicago Tribune in 1999, he became friends with director Leo Penn, who saw the screen possibilities in Mr. Viterelli's tough-guy visage.

"He asked me to be in some movies and TV, but I always declined," Mr. Viterelli said then. "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, Mr. Viterelli got a call from Penn's actor son, Sean, who was in New York City to make the 1990 gangster melodrama "State of Grace."

"He said, `Joe, we're looking for a character that's from your neighborhood,' " Mr. Viterelli recalled. " `We've seen about 50-60 people and nobody's right.' He said the key words, `Would you do me a favor?' "

Mr. 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.

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