Actor Al Molinaro, known best for playing Arnold’s Diner owner Al Delvecchio on the sitcom Happy Days, has passed away at age 96. The news was first reported by TMZ and later picked up by Deadline. He died as a result of complications from having gall stones, according to his son, Michael Molinaro.
While Molinaro was best known for playing Al Delvecchio, both in Happy Days and in its spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, he was a prolific television actor with a long list of appearances in sitcoms such as Green Acres, The Odd Couple, and later on coming out of retirement for the ’90s sitcom Family Man. He also somewhat reprised the role of Al when he was digitally inserted into the music video for Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” in 1994.
Molinaro, the son of Italian immigrants Raffaele and Teresa Molinaro, was born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In the 1950s he moved out to California, where he spent decades acting in bit parts before getting his first big break when producer Garry Marshall hired him for The Odd Couple, a role which directly led to his later involvement in Happy Days, also produced by Marshall. Despite his success in television, he never broke through to films, attributing it to his unwillingness to put up with profanity. “I won’t be in a movie that has four-letter words in it,” he once told The Chicago Tribune. “That puts me pretty much totally out of films these days.”
Perhaps it was his Wisconsin-bred Midwestern sensibilities that made Molinaro a perfect fit for the lovable-but-hapless characters he tended played on TV, despite preventing him from branching out onto the big screen. Molinaro was what many would consider a character actor, but did not seem to mind being famous for playing a singular type of character. After temporarily retiring from television after the end of Happy Days, he was involved in a chain of diners called Big Al’s, modeled after the diner his character owned on the TV show.
Al Molinaro is survived by his son Michael, his wife Betty Molinaro, and his three grandchildren. All of us at Screen Rant offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends.
R.I.P. Albert Francis “Al” Molinaro: June 24, 1919 – October 30, 2015