Reni Santoni, who starred alongside Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry,” died this past weekend at the age of 81, TheWrap has learned.
Santoni passed away in hospice care after years of health problems, including cancer.
The New York native starred in Eastwood’s 1971 classic film as Chico Martinez, a rookie detective with a sociology degree, who gets paired up with “Dirty” Harry Callahan despite the surly cop’s resistance to working with inexperienced partners. Chico survives being shot by the amoral killer Scorpio during the film and ends up leaving the force, but not before giving a famous line in the film after Callahan gets the job of delivering ransom money to Scorpio: “No wonder they call him Dirty Harry; [he] always gets the s— end of the stick.”
Prior to “Dirty Harry,” Santoni got his start in acting via off-Broadway theater with his own play, “Raisin’ Hell in the Son” before getting his first screen role as a junkie in the 1964 Rod Steiger movie “The Pawnbroker.” In 1967, he got his first leading role in Carl Reiner’s directorial debut, “Enter Laughing.” In the semi-autobiographical film, Santoni played David Kolowitz, a delivery boy who leaves his job to chase his dreams of becoming a stage actor in the Big Apple.
Reiner and Santoni later reunited in the late comedian’s 1982 mystery-comedy “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” starring Steve Martin. The following year, he appeared in “Bad Boys,” playing a former gang member-turned-juvenile prison warden, who tries to avert a teenage inmate (Sean Penn in his film debut) from a life as a career criminal.
On television, Santoni had guest appearances on cop shows like “Hawaii Five-O,” “Hill Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue” and “Miami Vice.” But his most famous TV role was as the unsanitary Italian restaurant owner, Poppie, in four episodes (including the finale) of “Seinfeld.”
Santoni is survived by his son, Nick.