Tony Danza isn’t just “the boss,” he’s also one of New York’s Italian-Americans of the year.
The New York State Council of Italian-American Legislators will bestow its Italian-American of Distinction Awardon the actor, author and former Long Islander on Monday during a ceremony in Albany for Italian-American Day.
He’ll be sharing the title with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Liberty DeVitto, a 1968 Seaford High School graduate who played with Billy Joel’s band for 30 years.
“I’m thrilled,” said Danza, a Brooklyn native and 1968 Malverne High School graduate who recently starred in the Broadway-bound musical “Honeymoon in Vegas” at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse.
Danza’s late mother, Anne Cammisa, was born in the Sicilian province of Trapania, making him a first generation Italian-American on her side. His late father, Matty Iadanza, was born in Brooklyn, but his family hailed from Naples.
“My father would be really proud of the Italian part, but also the American end of it,” Danza, 63, said of the award.
Danza said Iadanza, a sanitation worker and World War II veteran, taught his children to live by America’s motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” which translates to “out of many, one.”
“He used to talk about America as being a team,” he said. “My father was a big believer in trying to be a good American.”
Living in New York City, Danza's philanthropic efforts include working with the New York-based cancer charity, Voices Against Brain Cancer, the New York City All Stars Project, a youth development group, and Only Make Believe, a nonprofit that brings theatrical performances to children in hospitals. He also recently joined the board of the New York City Police Athletic League.
“It’s so much harder being a kid nowadays, so that’s where I put most of my effort,” he said.
From 2009 to 2010, he spent a year teaching in an inner city Philadelphia high school, documenting his experiences for the reality TV show “Teach” and in his book, “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had.”
Danza said he still returns to that school to assist with fundraisers. In March 2013, he also came back to Malverne to tend bar at a local pub to raise money for a middle school field trip that the Malverne School District had cut from its budget.
“Many of us have admired and followed Tony’s career for a long time,” said New York State Assemb. Donna Lupardo, the president of New York State Council of Italian-American Legislators.
She said the 45-member group tries to select honorees that reflect a diversity of accomplishments among Italian-Americans.
“Looking at his background as an actor, entertainer, author and philanthropist, it’s really quite remarkable what he’s been able to accomplish,” she added.
Danza said he’s a bit uncomfortable accepting awards, but the recognition does encourage him to continue to devote his time to the causes he’s passionate about.
“It’s about trying to make the world a better place,” he said. “Everybody has to do what they can.”