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Subject: Mario Perillo, 76, 'Mr. Italy' To Vacation Planners

New Jersey
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Date Posted: March 02, 2003 10:35:33 EDT

Mario Perillo, the silver-haired tour operator whose raspy television pitch, "Go Perillo to Italy," persuaded more than a million Americans to visit that country, died Friday at his home in Saddle River, N.J. He was 76.

The cause was cancer, his family said.

Mr. Perillo was known as "Mr. Italy" for having built his father's modest storefront travel agency under the Third Avenue elevated train in the Bronx into the world's largest operator of escorted tours to Italy.

Based in a grandly ornate building in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. it was designed to resemble an Italianate palazzo Mr. Perillo's company, Perillo Tours, offered everything from the simplest Roman holidays to 14-day olive oil and chianti-soaked excursions through the winding back roads of Tuscany.

About a decade ago, as his business in Italian voyages started to dip slightly, Mr. Perillo struck out in new directions, establishing package tours to Bermuda and the Bahamas. These days, the company, which is run by his son Stephen, offers guided trips to several European capitals and to Hawaii.

Until he joined the Army in 1944, Mario Perillo had never ventured farther than 40 miles from his home in the East Tremont section of the Bronx. His father, Joseph, opened a travel agency and translation service there called Joseph Perillo & Sons in 1945.

When Mr. Perillo returned from military service, he did not immediately join the family business. He earned a law degree from New York Law School before deciding to work alongside his father, who retired in 1965.

Mr. Perillo was obsessed with all things Italian he ate Italian food, wore Italian suits, drove Italian cars and was the sort of man to tell certain business associates when things went wrong, "Well, that's because you're not Italian."

He was most famous for his plain-spoken radio and television commercials, which he wrote and produced. "He felt you had to be willing to get in front of the world yourself and not stand behind some hired actor or slick graphics," said Stephen Perillo.

Aside from Stephen, he is survived by two daughters, Christine Pepper of Saddle River and Linda Zazzali of Park Ridge, N.J.; and by another son, Mark, of Pearl River, N.Y.

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