Crooner Al Martino, who followed a string of middle-of-the-road pop hits with a small but attention-getting role as the mobbed-up singer Johnny Fontane in two of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” films, died Tuesday. He was 82.
Martino died at his childhood home in the Philadelphia suburb of Springfield, according to publicist Sandy Friedman.
Born Alfred Cini in 1927, Martino, who grew up in a family of bricklayers, was encouraged to pursue a musical career by the big-voiced Italian-American tenor Mario Lanza, a boyhood friend. After he relocated to New York, where he roomed with fellow aspiring singers Eddie Fisher and Guy Mitchell, his career lifted off following a winning appearance on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” in 1952.
He cut his only No. 1 pop single, the ballad “Here in My Heart,” that year. After a stint in England, where he headlined the London Palladium, he signed to 20th Century Fox Records.
He realized his greatest run of success at Capitol Records during the ‘60s. His biggest hits for the label included “I Love You Because” (No. 3, 1963) and “I Love You More and More Every Day” (No. 9, 1964). His 1966 waxing of “Spanish Eyes” was a long-running easy listening chart-topper; the like-titled LP reached No. 8.
With the rise of rock in the ‘60s, the hits tapered off, though Martino’s singles reached the bottom half of the charts through 1977.
But moviegoers took notice of Martino’s role in “The Godfather” in which vocalist Fontane, seeking mob boss’ Vito Corleone’s help in securing a movie role, was slapped around and mocked by Marlon Brando’s Mafia don.
Martino reprised the part – inspired by rumors that Frank Sinatra used Mafia ties to secure his Oscar-winning role in Fred Zinnemann’s 1953 film of “From Here to Eternity” – in “The Godfather III.”
Ironically, it was singer Phyllis McGuire – the longtime girlfriend of Chicago Mafia kingpin Sam Giancana, a reputed Sinatra associate – who suggested that Martino pursue the role.
Martino also recorded the “Godfather” love theme, “Speak Softly Love,” for Capitol in 1972.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.