Sopranos Star and Rao’s Restaurant Owner Frank Pellegrino Sr. Dies at 72

February 1, 2017, 4:50 PM UTC
Famous Foodies With Frank Pelligrino
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: TV host Michelle Park and Rao's owner Frank Pellegrino attends the Famous Foodies Show with Frank Pellegrino at Rao's NYC on September 30, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)
Bobby Bank — WireImage/Getty Images

Frank Pellegrino Sr., Sopranos star and owner of the exclusive restaurant Rao’s in New York’s East Harlem, died yesterday afternoon after a battle with lung cancer.

Bo Dietl, a New York City mayoral candidate and close friend to Pellegrino told Page Six, “we lost a part of New York today when we lost Frankie. There’s nobody like him, he’s an icon.” Dietl said Pellegrino passed away with his family at his side at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City.

Food Raos
The exterior of Rao’s restaurant in the Harlem section of New York on October 24, 2016.Richard Drew — AP
Richard Drew — AP

Friend Charles Gasparino, a senior correspondent for Fox Business Network, wrote on Facebook about Pellegrino’s passing saying that the owner had a “tough exterior but had a heart of gold.”

Pellegrino took over after Rao’s, a 100-year-old Italian restaurant, after his aunt Anna Pellegrino and her husband Vincent Rao died in 1994. He co-owned the restaurant with Vincent’s nephew Ron Straci; the two were recently in a high-profile legal battle.

The restaurant ran on table assignments that Pellegrino and his aunt assigned years ago. People who have tables can come as many times as they want, and if they can’t, they give the table to a family or friend or donate it to charity.

EXCLUSIVE Clinton operative, Doug Band
Frankie “No” Pellegrino singing “My Way” to former President Bill Clinton in 2003 at Rao’s in East Harlem.Nancy Ellison — Polaris
Nancy Ellison — Polaris

“People love to talk how no one can get a table at Rao’s,” wrote Gasparino. “Well thats true but it misses the point. The tables were given out to old time customers when the place became hot some years ago. New entrants needed to wait their turn to “own” a table, and it didn’t matter who they were. Warren Buffett was one of those who wanted a table and faced Frankie’s famous ‘no.'”

Some notable people have had the pleasure to eat at the restaurant, Leonardo DiCaprio, Keith Richards, Billy Crystal, Woody Allen and even the Clintons. Hillary has said it is one of her favorite places to eat in New York.

Pellegrino with James Gandolfini in the "Sopranos."
Pellegrino with James Gandolfini in the “Sopranos.”Courtesy of HBO
Courtesy of HBO

Pellegrino is also credited for founding Rao’s Specialty Foods in 1992. He also wrote Rao’s Cookbook.

Other than being a restauranteur, he also was an actor. Most notably he played FBI chief Frank Cubitoso in HBO’s The Sopranos, and Johnny Dio in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas.

Vegas Uncork'd By Bon Appetit's Grand Tasting At Caesars Palace
Pellegrino Sr. left, and Pellegrino Jr., chef Nicole Grimes and co-owner Straci at Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit’s Grand Tasting event at Caesars Palace May 6, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.Ethan Miller — Getty Images
Ethan Miller — Getty Images

He is survived by his son, Frank Jr. — who opened Rao’s restaurants in Las Vegas in 2006 and Hollywood in 2013 — as well as his wife and daughter.