The final scene for a Bronx-born actor and restaurateur came with a heart-breaking ending.
Frank Vallelonga Jr., 60, whose corpse was callously dumped on a Bronx sidewalk, was identified Thursday as the namesake son of a one-time Copacabana bouncer played by Viggo Mortensen in the Oscar-winning movie “Green Book” and the brother of a two-time Academy Award winner.
Vallelonga was the son of the late Frank Sr., known as “Tony Lip,” who famously accompanied Black pianist Don Shirley as a bodyguard during a tour through the Jim Crow-era South in the early 1960s before an unlikely transformation from doorman to actor — and a recurring role on “The Sopranos.”
The suspect arrested for leaving the lifeless body behind apparently loaded the corpse into a vehicle leased by the victim’s acclaimed brother Nick for the Nov. 29 ride to his final concrete resting place, a criminal complaint alleged.
“That dude was dead already,” driver Steven Smith told cops, according to a criminal complaint. “He overdosed. I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
The death car was supposed to be used in the New Jersey filming of a John Travolta movie, police sources told the Daily News. Neighbors said the filming on the streets of Franklin Lakes, NJ, was set for last month, with Frank announcing he was directing the shoot that never happened.
The dead man was discovered at 3:51 am Monday after a 911 call reporting a body outside a Hunts Point factory, and police said video surveillance and witnesses confirmed the car with New Jersey plates stopped before the corpse was pulled from the passenger’s seat and left behind
Vallelonga’s cause of death remains officially unconfirmed, with a spokeswoman for the city Medical Examiner saying an investigation has been launched, but the results could take some time to confirm.
“I loved the guy. He was a great guy,” “Sopranos” star Vincent Pastore told The News. “The last time I saw Frankie, he came to one of my acting classes in the city about six months ago.”
The corpse was found without any identification, initially leaving the victim’s name a mystery. Vallelonga Jr. was the owner of Tony Lip’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, named after his famous father, until the Franklin Lakes, NJ eatery closed during the pandemic.
Vallelonga Jr.’s own stab at an acting career included nine credits including “Green Book,” where he played his uncle Rudy, and an appearance on “The Sopranos.”
An Instagram photo from 2019, when “Green Book” won the Best Picture Oscar, shows a tuxedo-clad Frank Jr. hugging Lady Gaga.
Christine Lepporino, 43, whose father owned a nearby Jersey barbershop, recalled how thrilled Vallelonga was by the movie’s release.
“He was so proud of it,” she recalled. “It was so exciting … I think he had a celebration for it here, too. We congratulated him for it.”
Smith, 35, arrested one day after the body was discovered, faces eight charges including concealment of a human corpse, possession of a stolen vehicle and grand larceny. He was released without bail after his Bronx Criminal Court arrangement.
The gray 2021 Hyundai Elantra carrying the dead Vallelonga was tied to his Academy Award-winning younger brother Nick, according to court papers. He had not given permission for anyone to use the vehicle.
The veteran Hollywood filmmaker co-wrote the screenplay for “Green Book” and captured a pair of Oscars as his cinematic star ascended.
Smith lives in a Bronx homeless shelter, according to cops.
A Legal Aid spokesperson told The News that Smith played no role in the death, as noted by the Bronx criminal complaint and the charges brought against him for dumping the remains.
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According to Smith, a woman named Pam told him somebody had overdosed in a car. Smith admitted to driving off in the vehicle and leaving the body behind, a criminal complaint alleged.
“I got the body out by pulling him out of the car on the floor,” Smith allegedly told cops. “I don’t know the guy at all.”
The Vallelonga brothers’ dad was perhaps best known as an actor for his role as New York mob boss Carmine Lupertazzi in “The Sopranos,” along with small parts in classic organized crime movies like “Goodfellas,” “Donnie Brasco” and “The Godfather .”
The family patriarch landed his job with musician Shirley during a renovation at the Copa, and spent 18 month on the road with him. Shirley, who died in 2013, requested no movie be made until after his death and the story remained known only among the Vallelonga family.
A worker at a nearby truck and tire store recounted the scene when cops arrived to find the corpse.
“They found the body next to the bulldozer,” he said. “A couple workers found his body lying there and had called the police.”
With Nicholas Williams
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