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'Gino' dances in disco Heaven

Posted by Chris Forsberg, Boston.com Staff  June 7, 2008 08:28 AM

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The season-long search for the Celtics' dancing man affectionately known as Gino has come to a saddening end as the Wall Street Journal reports that the man died 18 years ago.

Joseph R. Massoni, pegged as the dancer clad in a Gino Vannelli T-shirt grooving in the American Bandstand clip that has become known as the Celtics' virtual victory cigar, reportedly passed away at age 34 in Fontana, Calif.

From the Journal:

Dick Clark Productions, which produced "American Bandstand" until it went off the air in 1989, agreed to help locate the man after being contacted by The Wall Street Journal. The company reviewed old tapes and talked to former dancers to uncover the mystery. One dancer, Terry Izen of East Highlands, Calif., received a call a few weeks ago from another former dancer telling her to check out the Gino video on YouTube.

"I was like, 'Oh my God, it's Joe Massoni!'" says Ms. Izen, who says she is the redhead to the right of him in the video.

Ms. Izen, who is now 52 and is involved in theater, was a regular dancer on "American Bandstand" in the mid-1970s. She says didn't know Mr. Massoni very well but lent him the tight Gino Vannelli T-shirt. But she did remember stopping by his family's Italian restaurant in Rialto, Calif., between shootings one day.

So when she set out to find him, she began calling Rialto's Italian restaurants. No luck. She turned to the white pages of the phone book. On the second try, she reached a woman who said she was Mr. Massoni's brother's mother-in-law.

The news couldn't have been sadder. Mr. Massoni, the woman said, passed away 18 years ago from pneumonia. "I didn't want to burst everybody's bubble because it's been so neat what's been going on in Boston," Ms. Izen said.

The Wall Street Journal couldn't independently verify the claim that Mr. Massoni is the deceased dancer. But Dick Clark Productions vouches for Ms. Izen's story. A spokeswoman for the San Bernardino, Calif., coroner's office confirmed that a man named Joseph R. Massoni passed away in 1990 at age 34 in Fontana, Calif. Calls to the residence of Mr. Massoni's brother weren't returned.

"If it's true, we are saddened to hear that news," says the Celtics' Mr. Gotham. "'Gino' has provided a lot of enjoyment for our fans, and his spirit will live on during the NBA Finals."

With the real Gino dancing on in disco Heaven, we're looking for best Gino tribute. Send us your photos or video in honor of Gino (the winner receives an iPod shuffle). For more on the Gino phenomenon, check out our video of fans trying to imitate Gino's moves below.

News, analysis and commentary from the following Boston Globe and Boston.com writers:

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