Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Anthony Dellaventura 1948-2010

I don't remember our first conversation, but it was probably about Catholicism. Later, we moved on to every other subject in the universe. But in the beginning, I can remember that we were discussing health supplements and alternative medicine (he was an almost-daily customer in the store where I work), when the rather intimidating ex-NYPD cop suddenly reached out and touched the St Jude medal I was wearing.

"Patron saint of lost causes," he mused, in his heavy New York accent. Luhwust Cuhwuzzes, is how it sounded to me.

"Yeah," I agreed.

"Are you a lost cause?" his voice turned suddenly gentle, and I was caught off guard.

"Probably," I admitted.

He narrowed his eyes. "You are not. You are a very intelligent and beautiful person." He seemed to be speaking very honestly, and I was struck silent, which never happens. I was embarrassed to be complimented.

"You don't believe me," he was inspecting my face. All at once, I was aware that he had been a professional interrogator. "You believe what all these assholes say," he waved his hand around, as if to encompass the whole world (and particularly the Catholic Church) in "all these assholes" and I laughed.

He narrowed his eyes again, "Really. It isn't funny. You do. Well, don't. They dunno shit." And then he smiled. An amazing, award-winning smile.

And for a few years, Tony Dellaventura brightened my life. I saw him nearly every day. He drove an enormous custom Harley-Davidson and dressed in leather; tattooed from head to toe, able to bench-press 200 lbs at age 60, he was a striking figure. His name was Snake; the name tattooed on his throat, right above a snake. It was a long time before I knew his real name.

"Are you tattooed everywhere?" I once asked, curious.

"Every inch," he assured me. And he said he had a dragon down below, the dragon's tail becoming, well, you know.

I'm sure my eyes popped, "Didn't that hurt?!?"

"Oh hell yes," he said, matter-of-factly.

We argued about politics mostly, after it was discovered that we were in near-total opposition, yet agreed on certain libertarian basics: Let people have their guns, their dirty movies, their weed. (The mention of weed being illegal made him roll his eyes.) He particularly liked Ron Paul (as I wrote here once before), and was suitably impressed that I had gone to the Peace Center Amphitheater to hear Congressman Paul speak, even as a lefty. We would argue until we were interrupted, or until he would get thoroughly pissed off and walk away from me. But he was never rude.

Sometimes he would return later in the day, "And another thing..." and reply to what I had said earlier. He always heard me out and let me make my point, sometimes granting that I was right. It was during these conversations that I would hear references to his experiences as a cop; things he had seen that influenced his views in often surprising ways. Even as a fairly right-wing guy, he would freely admit (for instance), that gay people were unfairly targeted, since he had seen it himself so many times. And his New Yorker-honesty and bluntness always impressed me a great deal, since it was steeped in the harsh reality of what he had actually witnessed.

He ate a very healthy diet, almost fanatically so. When he told me he had pancreatic cancer, I was shocked; he seemed like Iron Man. (I knew the odds and I was upset.) And after that, Tony lost weight rapidly. He went back to New York City for treatment, then returned to South Carolina. I wanted to take his photo at one point, but he wouldn't let me, "I don't look so good right now, wait until I look a little better."

I didn't see him after that.

From Tony's obituary in the Staten Island Advance:

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Anthony (The Snake) Dellaventura, 62, of Huguenot, a lifelong Staten Islander and a retired NYPD detective and private investigator whose rough-and-tumble workdays were dramatized in the television show “Dellaventura,” died Thursday in Calvary Hospital’s hospice in Brooklyn, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
I have never seen the TV show named after him, but I loved knowing someone who was the subject of a TV series.

He was exactly the sort of larger-than-life personality that great TV-characters are made of.
Mr. Dellaventura joined the NYPD in 1969. After two years in uniform, he spent five and a half years as a plainclothes anti-crime officer, charged with posing as a drug dealer. Described as a “cop’s cop,” he later was assigned to the Organized Crime Control Bureau, and was promoted to detective in 1981.

A fourth-degree black belt in martial arts and a weapons expert, he had been in a shootout with a robber in the parking lot of the Staten Island Mall.

Upon his retirement in 1984, he opened his own private investigation company and was hired by attorneys trying to uncover hidden funds during divorce cases, property owners looking to rout crack-dealing squatters, and film studios who wanted to destroy bootleg copies of new releases being sold by vendors on city streets.

The secret to his success in business, he once told the Advance, is being both a good sleuth and establishing confidence and good faith with clients.

Known as “The Snake,” he told New York Magazine in a 1992 profile that his friends gave him the nickname “because of the way I strike, like a cobra. But you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to beat someone up or kill somebody.”

He also said he was willing to do anything necessary for a case, as long as it didn’t include breaking any laws. Instead, Mr. Dellaventura’s hulking physical presence and intense face — he rarely cracked a smile — were often enough to intimidate even the most hardened criminal.

Actor Danny Aiello portrayed him in the drama “Dellaventura,” which recreated some of Mr. Dellaventura’s real-life cases during its run on CBS from late 1997 until early 1998. The episodes were based on events straight out of the detective’s caselog, with details changed for confidentiality.

Mr. Dellaventura told the Advance in an interview when the show debuted that he was pleased with Mr. Aiello’s performance, noting the actor resembled him physically — minus Mr. Dellaventura’s collection of more than 240 tattoos, which would have taken a makeup artist hours to recreate.

Mr. Dellaventura also served as a bodyguard for notables including Jack Dempsey, Sid Caesar and Harry Connick, Jr.

A deeply committed, born-again Christian, he was an active member of Faith Fellowship Ministries in Sayreville N.J., and Grace Fellowship Ministries in Greer, S.C., where he had a second home.

“He was just a tremendous friend to people,” said his wife, Susan. “You could call him at 3 in the morning and he would get up and drive to California to come to your aid.”

Mr. Dellaventura’s passions were rooting for the New York Yankees, riding his Harley-Davidson through the mountains of South Carolina, boxing, and watching old movies.

Most of all, he loved spending time with his family.

Surviving, along with his wife of 20 years, the former Susan Villani, are his sons, Anthony, Philip, Nicholas and Salvatore, and his daughter, Lucianne Dellaventura.
I met Susan and Salvatore, but not the rest of his family. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

I will miss you, my friend, as well as our spirited arguments and your solemn promise that you would settle the hash of anyone who messed with me. Your wild tattoos and multicolored, humongous Harley, making all kinds of rumbly noises in the parking lot. Must be Snake, I would think.

Reflexively, I sometimes still think it's you.

There are only a few in the world like you. So few. If you have indeed found that Afterlife we so often argued about, put in a good word for your favorite Lost Cause. I love you, and we sure do miss our favorite ex-NYPD cop here in Carolina.

Rest in peace.


John Powers said...

You're beautiful, you know.

A very moving tribute both to Mr. Dellaventura and to our potential to be human.

sheila said...

Oh, that's an incredible tribute to your friend. Sounds like a great person, Daisy. R.I.P.

Carrington said...

I remember him...thanks for posting this

JoJo said...

Aw Daisy, what a sweet tribute to an amazing man!! I mean, who knew??? I remember Dellaventura being on TV but I didn't watch it. Now I wish I had. :( My sympathies on the loss of your friend. He sounds like an amazing man, who died just WAY too young.


I remember the tv show..I'm sorry about the loss of your friend..and he was a friend in the true sense of the word.

Blue Heron said...

Wow - what a guy! Thanks for the introduction. Happy Trails, Snake - may the four winds blow you safely home...

Anonymous said...

This is so sweet!!! I don't usually comment on stuff like this but I have some really nice things to say about this man! His brother, Joe,owns an italian restaurant here in Greer, Sc and my sister works there. He treated her really nicely always making sure she was safe by walking the ladies that work there to their cars, and he was more of a security person at della's than a costumer. When my sister found out he got cancer, she was truly devastated. After that instead of being known as tony, he was known as uncle tony and really was a great Christian role model to her. Then a horrible/wonderful thing happened one day, he moved onto heaven and left this sinful world. What helped my sister get through the loss was knowing for sure she would be seeing him in heaven!

God bless the Dellaventura family!

Marinell Montoya said...

Tony was my friend. I'm pleased to see him so well represented here!