William James Kennedy: Joe was the most versatile of the stereotypical Italian wise guy actors. Joe actually broke through that typecasting, and not many others have. For example, the actors you see today such as Joe Pesci, or James Giandolfini, in the Goodfellas, or the Sopranos-type guys, that's all they're ever going to do. Play tough mafia type. But Joe played all kinds of roles. He played priests, Southern-accented coal miners, Western-accented prison guards.
Robert Forster: Everyone knew Joe Spinell in Hollywood. He was a real rat bastard and everyone knew that. Yet, it was a shock for me when I met him for the first time back in 1982 on the set of Vigilante that I though, "this guy is okay. He's a real good actor to be around."
Jason Miller: Joe was a real comedian off the set in which he and I be telling each other jokes. But when it came time to do his acting... his preparation for his roles was so internal that he didn't need to memorize his lines or go outside someplace to prepare, and prepare, and prepare. It was already there for him, inside. It just surfaced as soon as the camera went on.
William Lustig: Joe Spinell was an actor who worked constantly. He was pretty much in demand by every A-list and B-list director on the east coast and west coast. He would take a role, large or small. He just loved to work. Joe loved movies, loved being on a set, loved acting... that was his life.
Luke Walter: Joe got more and more out of control with his drinking and shenanigans. He didn't know when to stop. Once I told him: "Joe, pull it back. Take it easy." And would snap at me saying: "You're not my mother! Leave me alone!" I was getting tired of the same shit over and over again. Yeah, I had to take a break from it all. But Joe sorta got angry that I didn't want to hang around with him anymore. One time after that, I was at a party with my date, Joe in a very intoxicated way, saw me and yelled out, "Luke took a woman, and he's not my boyfriend anymore!"
Robert Forster: I never worked with a better actor. Never. Everything that Joe did on and off the set was riviting. You could watch him all day long and never be bored at the things he did.
William Lustig: The drinking and the drugs with Joe escalated after we finished Maniac. He was really getting bad after that, both personally and professionally. I think the financial success of Maniac might have facilitated some of his behavior. He owned a sizeable portion of the film, and profits were coming in within six months after the release, and the distributors then gave him his share of the money, which Joe took and went out and did stuff that he might not have done.
William Lustig: Joe never approached a role as a "small role". He in a very naturalistic manner would try to make any role he landed memorable.
Sonny Grosso: Joe was game for anything. Anything you wanted him to do on the set, he would do it. Unlike other actors I've worked with, they have to get into character for their roles. They have to get prepared to memorize their lines and have to go to their dressing rooms or trailers to rehearse, and you can't talk to them. They can't be disturbed. Joe could be shooting crap in a corner, or smoking a joint, or telling jokes to everyone on the set. Then I would yell out, "Spinell! You're on!" Boom, Joe drops what he's doing, comes on the set, and he's all ready.
John Scott: Joe was a real goof-off off the set, but he was very serious to his acting when it came time for him to go on. No matter how inebriated he was or whatever. Sometimes, Joe would show up on the sets bombed drunk. But as soon as it came time for him to act on camera, he was right there and on the money.
Richard Lynch: It was one day in Hollywood, 1986... were were waiting on the set, but there was no Joe Spinell. We're waiting on the set... still no Spinell. By mid afternoon, my producer told me "go to the hotel and get him. I know he's there". So, I drove to the downtown L.A. hotel where Joe was staying at while he was in L.A. to shoot this movie. I walked into the lobby and up to the front desk and told the desk clerk, "Mr. Spinell, please." After a few minutes, the hotel manager came out and asked me if I was a friend of Joe Spinell. I told him I was. The manager told me, "He's in the cocktail lounge. Do you mind doing something? Getting him out of here? We have guests from out of town." So... I go into the hotel's lounge and there at the center of attention at a table sat Joe, looking very humble, very composed, and having what appeared to be his 50th drink... in his mother's dress. He had one of his mother's mumu's on and his face was smeared with all this makeup like a Piccaso painting. I walked up to Joe asking what he was doing. Joe looked at me and said, "what's wrong? What? This? It's my mother's dress. I like it."
[on the death of Joe Spinell's mother in 1987]
William Lustig: Shortly after Joe's mother passed away, I saw even a further decline in Joe. He became someone who... I didn't even want to be around anymore. Because he was just so out of it.
[cut to William James Kennedy]
William James Kennedy: I stayed with Joe in his apartment for a few months after his mother died. Every time we'd walk into the apartment after we were out for the day or night or whatever, Joe would say out loud into the apartment, "Hi Ma, were home."
[cut to Luke Walter]
Luke Walter: When she passed on, it really did affect him. I mean it really, really did. Joe and I were sort of away from each other at that point in time. I made an effort to reconsile. I showed up at the funeral and payed my respects. Joe thanked me and everyone for attending and lending him emotional support. But... I don't think I ever saw Joe happy again after that.
[cut to Jason Miller]
Jason Miller: With Joe being a Mama's Boy all his life and to have her die... it's something I belive that Joe could never cure himself of the pain over his mother dying.
[cut to Grace Raimo]
Grace Raimo: Joey's health got worse after our mother died. I lived only a block away with my husband and after that really more or less took care of him. It was really tough for me. First as a teenager dealing with my very sick father, and now with my younger brother Joe... with almost the exact same health problems.
William James Kennedy: I was aware of Joe's drinking problem which got worse year after year. I used to own this summer house in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania. During the summers of 1983 and 1984 when Joe wasn't working, I would invite him with some of my friends where for fishing, nature trail hiking, etc. The deal was that he could come... if he wouldn't drink and brought no booze. So, every time Joe would arrive at the cabin I would go through his bag and check his pockets and find a bottle now and then. But he would always find a way around that. For example, he would sneak out and go to one of my neighbors houses down the road and just invite himself in asking to borrow some firewood or food, and when they weren't around he would go to their liquor cabinet and quickly pour himself a shot, down it, and leave.
[on Joe Spinell's last days]
William Lustig: I hadn't seen Joe for some time when, out of the blue, I called him up at his apartment a day or two after he arrived back from Mobile, Alabama after filming a movie down there and asked if he would like to have dinner with me at the Mayfair Hotel on Central Park West for old time sake. He showed up at the hotel restaurant very well dressed in a suit and tie... but he did not look at all well. He was with this woman... a kinda elderly woman from his neighborhood in Sunnyside, Queens. While we were talking over dinner, Joe asked the woman to sing and she began to sing some Italian folk song and Joe rested his head against her shoulder and began to cry. Now I'm looking at this and thinking to myself, "oh my God, this is awful". I realized that Joe was a man who could never get over the loss of his mother... ever. Just after I had seen Joe, I flew to Los Angeles where I began work on a movie called Relentless. The very last time I ever spoke to Joe was a day or two later when I called him again where I told him more about the movie I was making and I invited him to come to Los Angeles. I would fly him out, put him up in a hotel for a week so he could act in a scene in the movie and for the first time ever... Joe turned me down. He said, "I can't do it, Bill. I just can't. I lost my false teeth a few days ago. I don't look good. I'm sorry". He hung up a minute later and that was that.
[on Joe's last days]
Luke Walter: I was with him the night before on January 12 where we went to Gallagher's, his favorite gentlemen's club down the street from his apartment building to watch the girlies dance. After a while I told him, "Joe, we've been here for a couple of hours. It's time to go home." I walked with him back to his apartment building, saw him in, and then walked to my car to drive back to my own apartment building. The next day at late afternoon, I received this phone call from some guy I didn't know who told me... Joe Spinell's dead. Now, I though it was some young kid playing a joke and I told him, "Joe's not dead. Don't fool around." The man on the phone said, "I'm not fooling around." I said, "well to be blunt, who the fuck are you?" The man on the phone said, "this is NYPD Officer Carl O'Brian and..." I cut him off saying, "look man, don't break my balls!" The guy said, "hold on". A few seconds later Joe's sister Grace came on the phone and she just said, "yeah Luke, he's dead."
Frank Pesce: I was in L.A. on the evening of January 13 when I received the call about Joe's death. I went over to Sylvester Stalone's house where he was having a party where he let me in and asked me what was wrong. I told him: "you're not going to belive this, but Joe Spinell died." Sly didn't say anything, but from the look on his face... I knew he just felt terrible. After he announced to all his guests in his living room about Joe Spinell's death, he then went to his liquor cabinet, got out and opened up some kind of white wine... I forgot what kind it was. He poured himself, me, and everyone there a glass. We all had a toast. We all said, "here's to Joe." The mood in the place was so sad.
[on Joe's death]
William Lustig: There's a funny story that I'm sure Joe is laughing about in Heaven. One of the things that Joe kept was the fake severed head from the ending of 'Maniac'. He kept it in his living room on top of his television set. Joe was a hemophiliac. When Joe died, he died from somehow bleeding to death. Nobody knows all the details but from what I heard, he was alone in his apartment on that morning, he was drunk, high or whatever, he somehow cut himself and instead of biding his wound, he wondered around the apartment, fell asleep on his couch, and bled to death. So there was this massive amount of blood all over the living room. When the police showed up later that day, they find all this blood all over the living room floor and they see this fake severed head on top of the large TV set. They thought it was a real head so they freaked out! Looking down from Heaven, I'm sure that Joe found it funny because that was his kind of humor.
Luke Walter: One day, Joe and I were at Friar Tuck's talking about his work and Joe told be about his producer friend, Elliot Kastner, and Joe said, that "I think that Elliot wants to give a five-picture deal with Paramount" What do you think?" I said, "well, Joe that's great. You're finally on your way. I think a five picture deal with Elliott is a wonderful career opportunity. Then Joe said, "well, I have a little problem." I said, "well, what's the problem? What could you be worried about?" Joe then said, "well, they're these two young kids I told you about, Bill Lustig and Andy Garroni... they want me to do this horror film for them called Maniac. Should I take the five picture deal in Hollywood or help Bill and Andy make this movie?" I told him, "Joe, you decide what you want. There is no wrong choice. If you really belive in those two kids, you should make that horror movie."
William James Kennedy: One day you would kill for Joe, the next day you'd want to KILL Joe. For example, he and I were in a local bar in Manhattan one evening and he just walked out where he had a couple hundred dollar tab going with all the drinks he brought for himself and me... and I got stuck with it. The very next evening he came back to the very same bar-restaurant and bought the whole place, including me, dinner... and all was forgiven.
William Lustig: In 1982 when we did Vigilante, Joe was starting to become unreliable. The drinking and drugs with him had really started to escalate. He was no longer the professional and loyal man I knew from Maniac. Because of his drinking, it was becoming increasingly difficult to get him to show up for work on the set. I remember one morning, he didn't show up at all. So, I had to send Andy Garonni out searching for him... doing detective work. Andy would go around to various bars around Manhattan trying to find out which one he was in, and from there to which random girl he would pick up. Joe's mother was one of the extras for the courtroom scene we were supposed to shoot on that day. When Joe finally did show up with Andy after he found him where ever he had been, she yelled at Joe when he came onto the set in front of me and everyone about him never showing up and getting drunk. She screamed at him something like: "you owe Bill and Andy an apology! You everyone here an apology!" Joe, turning beat red with embarrassment, just replied, "yeah, Ma... all right, Ma... yeah, Ma... I understand... I was wrong..." After it was all over, Joe stood up on a box and apologized to the whole cast and crew.
Robert Forster: I heard stories about how this guy would rank up thousands of dollars in hotel and restaurant bills, yet during working on 'Vigilante' and 'Walking the Edge' he would complain to me about how everybody pays him not enough. Joe privately told me: "Everyone robs me. They use me on these movies for a couple of days and pay me short dough." Yet, this is a guy who spends money like there is no tomorrow. However in 1984, I flew Joe out here to Los Angeles where I told him about this little independent movie I was directing called 'Hollywood Harry' and I invited him to appear as my co-star saying, "Joe, nobody's ever used you as a good guy. How would you like to co-star as a good guy?" Joe agreed. I made 'Hollywood Harry' for a low-budget of $125,000, not much. Everyone was getting ad-SAG low-budget minimum wages, including me. Yet, I finished the movie one week ahead of schedule and under budget. After filming wrapped up, I privately told Joe that I had something like $11,400 left of the budget and I said: "Joe, as a token to my appreciation to your hard work and our friendship, I'm gonna give all of the rest of the money to you." Joe said, "I'll take it." And he did... and to his credit, he never demanded an extra penny that he hadn't agreed on. Joe was a professional straight shooter. A little nuts, but a straight shooter.
William Lustig: While we were filming Maniac, I once told him: "Joe, we'll be lucky if this movie plays in seedy cinemas on 42nd Street and out-of-the-way, rural, run-down Texas drive-ins". He told me: "Bill, you're wrong. What we're making here is a happening."
William James Kennedy: All his life, Joe had this little tax problem with the IRS where he would be audited for underpayment of income taxes, which in his sister, Grace, was forced to take control of his finances. She would give him $20 here and there to eat, buy food, pay his utility bills and other stuff. Then, after he would get paid for his latest movie role, he would cash his paychecks he would receive and we be out in the local New York and Los Angeles bars spending THOUSANDS of dollars every night.
William Lustig: Joe did not have a bank account because him and the IRS did not see eye-to-eye about finances. Up until the day he died, Joe would get these residual checks from his first movie role in The Godfather. During the mid 1970s, he would show up at my office downtown with these checks asking, "Bill, do you think when you have time, could you go down to your bank and cash this $16,000 check for me?" Every month I would see this huge residual checks he was getting from The Godfather. Finally one day I asked him, "How did you get this? How come you're getting all this money?" He replied, "Well, I was the second highest paid person on The Godfather". That's when he sat down and told me the story. He was hired by Francis Ford Coppola as a day player. Coppola loved Joe and loved his looks and charisma so much that he kept him on the picture for over six months. Despite that Joe was uncredited with his role, all of the other actors, with the exception of Marlon Brando, were being payed what was known as schedule ad-SAG minimum. A Screen Actor's Guild rep would log Joe in as being on the job every day during the six-month production. So as a result, Joe was ending up receiving residual checks for a few thousand dollars more then most of the other lead actors.
William Lustig: Joe was married to this porn star named Jean Jennings. In 1976, sometime before Joe married her, one of her adult films came out which was titled 'The Autobiography of a Flea. Joe suggested to me "let's go see the movie." I told him, "Joe, I am not gonna go to watch your girlfriend hump on camera." But Joe just said, "nah, Bill. It's no big deal." So one afternoon, me, Joe and his friend Luke Walter went to a local porno house on 42nd Street to watch the movie. After we paid, we entered the theater. Luke and I sat in one row and Joe sat about seven rows in front of us in the smoking section because he liked to smoke. The movie then came on. Every time that Joe's girlfriend Jean would say something really lame which was meant to be funny, Joe would burst out in this laughter. It was really uncomfortable being there and watching this woman who was dating Joe have sex on camera with various men. I was sweating in my seat and worried and saying to myself, "oh God, oh God, what's gonna happen after this is over?" When the movie finally ended, Luke and I took a quick exit from the theater. In the lobby just by the door, Joe finally caught up with us and in a very calm and causal voice asked us this: "wait, Bill... Luke... I want to ask your opinion on something. Now in that first scene with that guy... did you notice that she just licked the guy's cock? Right? She was not that into it? And in that next scene while she was down on her hands and knees and this big guy, John Holmes, was fucking her from behind... did you notice the look on her face? She did not seem to be enjoying it?" Now I'm standing here and softly laughing and thinking, "oh my God! I can't believe this that Joe doesn't mind talking about this topic!" Now whereas most guys who have dated porn stars would have taken a different approach to all of this, for Joe... he told me shortly afterwords, "I like her so much that I gotta marry her!"