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Subject: ARCHIVE: May 12, 1992 ~Pro wrestler-turned-actor Lenny Montana, 66, best remembered for his first on-screen role as the not too bright but ever loyal, but ill-fated bodyguard 'Luca Brasi' in "The Godfather" (1972), dies of a heart attack while on holiday in Italy. ...

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Date Posted: Sunday, May 12, 08:10:25pm

Lenny Montana
[ Leonardo Passafaro ]
(March 13, 1926 May 12, 1992)

American actor who played the role of feared hitman Luca Brasi in The Godfather. Prior to becoming
an actor, he had a successful career as a professional wrestler as well as an enforcer for the Colombo family. ...

Early life and early wrestling career

Lenny was born in Brooklyn, New York City in 1926 of Italian-American heritage. He was fluent in both English and Italian. His wrestling career began in neighboring New Jersey in 1953. He wrestled under the Zebra Kid gimmick, and was billed at the height of 6 foot 6 inches. It wasn't long before Montana found success. Along with Golden Terror, he won the New Jersey Tag Team titles on April 4, 1953. Lenny began to travel on the road, wrestling in the Midwest. He soon won the NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship, defeating Dave Sims on October 1, 1953 in Kansas City. However he lost the title on December 11, 1953 to Sonny Myers, who had held the title a previous three times before defeating the Zebra Kid. His final success of the 1950s came in 1956, winning the NWA Texas Tag Team Championship with Gene Kiniski, defeating Herb Freeman and Ray Gunkel on September 18 in Dallas under the alias Len Crosby. He also worked as a bouncer during this time to earn extra money.

Later wrestling career

...By the late 1950s, Montana was on the road with the Carnival Circuit as a wrestler. As a popular wrestler within the circuit, Montana met the then unknown Eddie Sharkey in 1960. The two struck up a friendship. After seeing what Sharkey could do, Montana recommended that he try his hand at professional wrestling. Montana also clued in Sharkey on the then-unacknowledged truth about professional wrestling, that all the outcomes are predetermined. Later on in that year, Montana won the NWA Texas World Tag Team titles with Joe Christie, under the Len Crosby name. Then with Hard Boiled Haggerty, he won the AWA World Tag Team Championship on October 4, 1960, defeating Stan Kowalski and Tiny Mills ( wrestling as Murder Inc.) in Minneapolis. But in a match against Verne Gagne, Montana suffered a broken leg, forcing Haggerty to choose a new partner. After recovering from his injury, in 1961 Montana began to wrestle in Florida.

...He came to the Tampa Bay area and began to wrestle under The Zebra Kid alias. At his great size, he would often pin his opponents in under one minute. The Zebra Kid had a notable feud with Eddie Graham; their battles sold out Fort Homer Hesterly Armory many Tuesday nights in 1961. Things came to a head when Montana defeated Eddie Graham in a NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (Georgia version) title match on May 1, 1962. On November 23, 1962, he won the NWA (Georgia) Southern Tag Team Titles with his partner Gypsy Joe, defeating 'Grizzly' Jake Smith and Luke Brown. Montana then went on to form a powerful partnership with Tarzan Tyler, in which they would win three titles. First, the NWA International Tag Team Titles on April 9, 1963 defeating Ted Evans and Chief Little Eagle, then again winning the NWA International Tag Team Titles later in June 1963, defeating billed champions Chief Little Eagle and Dick Steinborn. Finally, the duo won the NWA World Tag Team Championship in Georgia, during October 1963, they defeated Karl Von Brauner and Kurt Von Brauner. Montana was due to be Gorilla Monsoon's tag team partner in 1964, but at the last minute Monsoon took on The African Savage as his partner instead. Lenny had been interested in acting, and was meeting with casting agents in Los Angeles at the same time he was due to team up with Bison. Montana began to wrestle less and less, and went into semi-retirement; however he appeared in matches up until his acting career took off in the early 1970s.

Working for the Colombo crime family
Montana became involved with the Colombo crime family in the late 1960s. Tall and very heavily built, his talents were mostly as an enforcer and an arsonist. He would tie a tampon to the tail of a mouse, dip it in kerosene, light it, and let the mouse run through a building, or he would put a candle in front of a cuckoo clock so that when the clock's bird would pop out the candle would be knocked over and start a fire. Eventually, Montana was jailed at Riker's Island. Upon being released, as a friend of the family, Montana acted as a bodyguard for many of the senior members of the Colombo Family.

Work on The Godfather
The filming of the classic movie The Godfather faced strong opposition from the Italian-American Civil Rights League, with disputes headed by Joe Colombo and Frank Sinatra, threatening its whole production. Producer Al Ruddy eventually made a deal with the league and Joe Colombo to cut the word Mafia from the script, and the league were behind the production of the film. This meant many mobsters would be present on the set of The Godfather. It was in 1971, when Montana was acting as a bodyguard for a senior Colombo Family member, that he met Francis Ford Coppola and Al Ruddy. After being introduced to the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Montana, they quickly cast him for the role of Luca Brasi. When Bettye McCartt, Al Ruddy's assistant, broke her watch, Montana offered to get her a new one. A week later, Montana returned with a "gift from the boys" an antique diamond watch. He was picked for the part after the original actor playing the character died of a stroke. This would be his first film appearance.

...His role was that of sadistic mob enforcer Luca Brasi, a hitman used by Don Corleone (Marlon Brando). Montana was very nervous about appearing opposite Brando; Francis Ford Coppola incorporated this real-life tension into several scenes, showing Brasi repeatedly practising (and later fumbling) his congratulations to Corleone. Montana had little screen time in the role of Luca Brasi, but his notable height and physique caught the eye of producers, and he appeared in several movies and television programs after appearing in The Godfather.

Film and TV career
After appearing in The Godfather, Montana was an actor in demand. One of the first of these roles was the Italian spoof film The Funny Face of the Godfather in 1973. Montana had the role of Saro, and an artist's rendition of Montana appeared on the film's poster. He established himself as an efficient character actor and appeared in Patty (1976), Fingers (1978) as the pizzeria owner Luchino, Matilda (1978), They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way (1978), Seven, and The Jerk -both in 1979). In The Jerk, Montana played the racist land developer.

Below the Belt (1980), Defiance (1980), Battle Creek Brawl (1980) alongside Jackie Chan, Evilspeak (1981), ...All the Marbles (1981), Pandemonium (1982) and Blood Song (1982). He also acted on television as well as the big screen, appearing in Search (1973), Strike Force (1975), which starred a young Richard Gere, Contract on Cherry Street (1977), which featured Frank Sinatra, Kojak (1978), and Magnum, P.I. (1982). Montana was usually cast as "muscle" for hire or an intimidating mobster.

His likeness was used as his character Luca Brasi in The Godfather Game. Terence McGovern provided the voice acting.

Retirement and later life

...Montana retired from acting after appearing in the B movie Blood Song (1982), which he also co-wrote.
He died May 12, 1992 of a heart attack in Lindenhurst, New York. He was 66 years old,
and was interred with his family at Saint Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale, NY.


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Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes (NT).Monday, May 13, 11:45:08am

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