Jay Fiondella, founder of celebrity hangout Chez Jay and former actor, died Nov. 6 in Santa Monica after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 82.
Fiondella opened Santa Monica’s Chez Jay in 1959, where it became a popular stop for showbiz figures including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson and Sean Penn.
Fiondella appeared in more than 50 films and TV shows, and was also an adventurer and man-about-town. He was often seen on TV commercials and specials piloting his hot-air balloon. He went on several treasure hunting missions, one to recover the “Lost Squadron” WWII aircraft buried in Arctic ice and another hunting for millions of dollars worth of silver on a sunken ship off the coast of Yemen. He was selected as Cosmopolitan magazine’s “Bachelor of the Month” in 1970 and appeared on shows such as “The Dating Game” and “What’s My Line.”
His small TV parts included credits on “Gunsmoke,” “Perry Mason,” “Batman,” “Mission Impossible” and “Fantasy Island.” He also appeared in films including “Lethal Weapon” films and Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.”
His small, dark restaurant near the beach was known for its stiff drinks, potatoes au gratin with bananas, and for the historic “Astro-nut” — a peanut which astronaut Alan Shepherd took to the moon and back.
Born in East Haven, Conn., he served in the Navy in WWII as a Seabee in the Philippines and China. After attending the U. of Miami, he moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, where he roomed with Leonard Nimoy and supported himself by bartending at Sinbad’s on the Santa Monica Pier.
When he opened his own place nearby, he named it Chez Jay as an homage to Frank Sinatra’s restaurant Chez Joey in “Pal Joey.” Chez Jay is now managed by co-owner Michael Anderson.
Married twice, Jay is survived by a daughter, a son and a sister.
A memorial celebration will be held at Chez Jay,1657 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, on Saturday, Dec. 6 from 2-5 p.m. To RSVP, call (310) 395 -1741.