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Mario Perillo

Tour operator, 'Mr. Italy'

Mario Perillo, the silver-haired tour operator whose raspy television pitch, “Go Perillo to Italy,” persuaded more than a million Americans to visit that country, died February 28 at his home in Saddle River, N.J. He was 76.

The cause was cancer, his family said.

Mr. Perillo, known as “Mr. Italy,” built his father’s modest travel agency into the world’s largest operator of escorted tours to Italy. He was most famous for his plain-spoken radio and television commercials, which he wrote and produced.

Until he joined the Army in 1944, Mario Perillo had never ventured farther than 40 miles from his home in the East Tremont section of the Bronx. When he returned from military service, he earned a law degree from New York Law School before deciding to work alongside his travel agent father, who retired in 1965.

Perillo was obsessed with all things Italian — he ate Italian food, wore Italian suits, drove Italian cars — and was the sort of man to tell certain business associates when things went wrong, “Well, that’s because you’re not Italian.”

About a decade ago, when his business in Italian voyages dipped slightly, he established package tours to Bermuda and the Bahamas. Perillo Tours, now run by his son Stephen, today offers guided trips to several European capitals and to Hawaii.

Aside from Stephen, he is survived by two daughters and another son.

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