Veteran character actor Reni Santoni passed away on Saturday in Los Angeles, his friend -- TV writer-producer and musician Tracy Newman -- told The Hollywood Reporter. The actor, who played the rookie partner to Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry and also appeared in movies like Cobra and Rain Man, passed away while in hospice care for a number of problems that included cancer, according to Newman. Santoni, who became familiar to a whole new generation as Poppie, the unsanitary pizza guy in Seinfeld, appeared in a number of minor TV roles toward the end of his career, from According to Jim to Franklin and Bash.
Santoni began his career in the '60s, with movies like The Pawnbroker and Strangers in the City. He established himself by 1969 and 1970 with appearances on shows like The Odd Couple and movies like Guns fo the Magnificent Seven. After Dirty Harry in 1971, there was a decade where most of his screen credits were on TV, but he came back to feature films with Brewster's Millions and Cobra, in which he shared the screen with Sylvester Stallone.
In the '90s, he had a relationship with actress-turned-director Betty Thomas, and worked for her in films like The Brady Bunch Movie, Howard Stern's Private Parts, Doctor Dolittle, and 28 Days. He also appeared in the HBO TV movie The Late Shift, in which he played a network executive wrapped up in the drama over the Jay Leno/David Letterman feud.
Early in his career, he played the lead in Carl Reiner's semi-autobiographical film Enter Laughing, playing a role that had landed Alan Arkin a Tony Award. The film, though, wasn't nearly as well received as the stage show, and ultimately didn't help Santoni become a lead.
Over the course of his long career, Santoni appeared on The Rockford Files, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, Murder, She Wrote, and NYPD Blue.
Off-screen, Santoni was born in New York and had brushes with Broadway for years. Per THR, he wrote the off-Broadway play Raisin' Hell in the Son, which premiered in 1962, and appeared on stage in The Mad Show (written by staffers from Mad magazine).0comments
Over the course of fifty years, he appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, concluding with his 2012 appearance on Franklin & Bash.
Santoni is survived by his son, Nick. Our condolences go out to Reni Santoni's friends and family in this difficult time.