AL MARTINO, a South Philly kid with a big voice whose ballads reached high on the charts from the 1950s on, died yesterday of a heart attack in his Springfield, Delaware County, home. He had celebrated his 82nd birthday last Wednesday.
His death was sudden and unexpected since he had not been ill and was still performing. In recent years, he was most popular in Europe, especially Germany.
Martino startled the music world in the early '50s with the robust single "Here In My Heart." It sold more than a million copies. Over the years, he sang such hits as "Spanish Eyes," "Volare," "Take My Heart," "Cara Mia" and others.
He was born Alfred Cini in South Philadelphia, where a boyhood friend was opera star Mario Lanza. In fact, it was Lanza, who died in 1959, who inspired Martino to take up singing as a career.
Lanza had planned to record "Here In My Heart" himself, but was talked out of it by Martino, who thought it would overshadow his own version.
Martino was also an accomplished actor. He played the role of Johnny Fontaine in the "Godfather" movies. The character is supposed to have been based on Frank Sinatra, who had an alleged relationship with organized-crime figures. Martino also sang "I Have But One Heart (O Marenariello)" in "The Godfather."
He also played aging crooner Sal Stevens in the film "Cutout," in 2006.
Martino's son, Al Cini, said, "I have so many wonderful memories of my father I don't even know where to start." He praised his father's "warmth and great sense of humor."
"He was the last of the show-business legends," said entertainer Jerry Blavat, a longtime friend. "There's nobody else." Jerry frequently played Martino's songs on his oldies shows.
Growing up, Martino worked as a bricklayer in his family's construction business. He was a combat Marine in World War II, wounded in the Iwo Jima campaign. After the war, Al Cini changed his name to Martino following in the footsteps of his pal, Alfred Cocozza, who changed his name to Mario Lanza and became a legend.
Martino often said that he was inspired by Al Jolson and Perry Como to take up singing. He appeared in local night spots, including the iconic Palumbo's, before winning first place in Arthur Godfrey's "Talent Scouts" TV program in 1948. He sang a rendition of Como's "If." That success earned him a contract with the Philadelphia-based BBS label.
The success of "Here In My Heart" got him a contract with Capitol Records.
Ironically, for a man destined to perform in a Mafia-related movie, Martino ran into problems when his contract was taken over by a Mafia-connected management team.
He was ordered to pay $75,000 as a safeguard against their investment. He made a down payment, but then fled to the United Kingdom. He performed there in such venues as the London Palladium.
It wasn't until 1958 that he felt safe enough to return to the U.S.
He had some difficulty reestablishing himself in the fickle music business. He recorded for 20th Century Fox for a time, but the label dropped him.
The popularity of a new album, "The Exciting Voice of Al Martino" (1962), got him a new deal with Capitol. He followed that with a mostly Italian-language album, "The Italian Voice of Al Martino." He also made some appearances on television.
In 1963, his comeback hit, "I Love You Because," went to No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. In 1965, he gained further popularity with "Spanish Eyes," which achieved several gold and platinum disks for sales. His 1976 hit, "Volare," also called "Nel Blu, Dipinto di Blu," enjoyed mega-sales here and abroad. In 2000, he recorded an album, "Style."
Besides his son, he is survived by his wife, Judy, and two daughters, Alison Martino and Alana Cini.
Services: Were being arranged.