Alex Rocco, the instantly recognizable character actor who, as casino owner Moe Greene provided The Godfather with one of its most memorable killings, died Saturday. His daughter Jennifer Rocco confirmed his passing on Facebook, attributing his death to cancer, and posted a link to Rocco’s final interview. The actor was 79.
With his streetwise Italian demeanor and a gravelly voice that could sound as much Brooklyn as his native Boston (he once described his Boston youth as “wannabe gangster”), Rocco found his niche as early as 1967, when he appeared in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and, a year later, The Boston Strangler.
But Rocco, born Alexander Federico Petricone in 1936, didn’t limit himself to wiseguys, finding a parallel success in comedy. His role as an archetypal Hollywood agent in CBS’ The Famous Teddy Z, starring Jon Cryer, won Rocco an Emmy Award in 1990 for best supporting actor in a comedy. Cryer tweeted Sunday, “I am desolate. He was the sweetest man.”
And long before Paul Rudd played an insect, Rocco voiced an ant in 1998’s A Bug’s Life.
But it was his performance as the shifty, doomed Moe Greene that cemented Rocco’s place in Hollywood mob cinema. Based on the legendary Vegas mobster Bugsy Siegel, Rocco’s blustery Moe Greene made the fatal mistake of getting on the bad side of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, slapping around Michael’s woebegone brother Fredo once too often. “I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders,” Greene snapped at Michael after turning down a Corleone offer he shouldn’t have refused – taking a bullet in the eye for his mistake. The bloody, through-the-eyeglasses shooting – graphic for 1972 – was one of the film’s more notorious shockers.
After his Godfather success, Rocco became a guest-starring staple of episodic TV, with credits ranging from The Rookies, Starsky & Hutch, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Facts of Life and The Golden Girls to Magic City, Episodes and Maron.
“We lost a great one yesterday,” said friend and Magic City costar Jeffrey Dean Morgan. “For those of us lucky enough to get to know Rocco, we were blessed. 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.” Mitch Glazer, Magic City creator, called Rocco “the real thing – a throwback, stand-up guy, the kind of man I had only seen in the movies.”
In addition to his daughter Jennifer, Rocco is survived by his wife, actress Shannon Wilcox, daughter Kelli, sons Lucien and Sean; four grandchildren and a sister. He was preceded in death by his first wife Sandi Garrett, and adopted son, film director and producer Marc Rocco.