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Vincent T. Iannelli, 68, owned Captain Pepperoni's pizzeria

His restaurant/bakery was at 9th and McKean streets in South Philadelphia.

THE DOCTORS would look at Vince Iannelli's medical report and then up at him and wonder if they had the right guy.

The man in the medical report was riddled with cancers that had invaded many of his organs, from his prostate to his lungs to his liver to his bones.

The smiling, happy-go-lucky man before the doctors didn't look as if he'd been sick a day in his life.

"He had an inner spirit," said his sister Donna Iannelli. "I would say to the oncologist, 'Look at my brother. I see you don't believe the report.'

"The doctors would say, 'We like patients like this.' They were so happy when they saw him. He was so upbeat."

Vincent T. Iannelli, who operated a pizza shop and bakery at 9th and McKean streets in South Philadelphia called "Captain Pepperoni and the High Rollers," died Nov. 28. He was 68.

At its height in the late '70s and early '80s, Captain Pepperoni's was possibly the liveliest eatery in South Philly. The captain himself would be garbed in a red satin cape, green tights and a red cap on which were Mercury wings and captain's bars, white sequins spelling out "CP" on his chest.

College girls (and one boy) would deliver pizzas around the neighborhood on roller skates. For added fun, he had motorcycles tow the skaters around.

And in the pizzeria, Vince would be hard at work concocting his latest topping, maybe something with crab or spinach, to entice and entrance his devoted customers who came not only for pizza but to revel in the presence of this vibrant guy bursting with the life force.

He beat out 25 other restaurateurs to win a pizza contest on the old "People Are Talking" show on KYW-TV, and he proudly displayed the plaque in the eatery.

Vince would arrive at an idea for a new pie and would take it to his friend Frank Olivieri, owner of Pat's Steaks at 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue.

"I came up with this pie," he would say. "What do you think?"

Frank would give his analysis of the product, and invariably it would become a new staple of Captain Pepperoni's.

At 5-2, Vince Iannelli was a force to be reckoned with, if in miniature.

"The girls loved him," his sister said. "He never had any trouble getting girlfriends. He had a great personality."

And he never seemed to quit. While living at the Watermark at Logan Square, its publication, Thrive, ran a photo in its November edition of Vince in Halloween costume with a fake mustache and beard, wearing a funny hat, mugging for the camera.

He hardly looked like a man with only a few weeks to live.

"Vince has an amazing way about him, making friends wherever he goes," the Thrive wrote. "Vince is a character that we love having around. He loves the ladies and the ladies love him. Vince is inspiring, humbled and thriving."

Vince had to have been in some pain from the cancer, but he never let on. "You never knew he was in pain unless you asked him," Donna said. "You had to ask him."

"He would be lying there three-quarters dead and he would look up at me and say, 'How are you doing?' Sick as he was, he wanted to know how I was doing."

The Iannellis were longtime South Philadelphia restaurant owners. Vince's parents, Terry and Mima, ran an Italian bakery and restaurant at 1155 E. Passyunk Ave. that has been in the family for more than 100 years. The Iannellis specialized in the tomato pie, a cheeseless pizza. Iannelli's Brick Oven Bakery features an oven built in 1910 and now is run by their grandson and Vince Iannelli's son, also named Vincent.

Vincent Iannelli was born in Philadelphia, the only boy of four siblings. He attended St. Paul's Parochial School and St. John Neumann High School, now Ss. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School. He dropped out at age 16 and went to work in his parents' restaurant.

Around 1976, he founded "Captain Pepperoni and the High Rollers." The family thinks he added "high rollers" in commemoration of casino gambling becoming legal in Atlantic City that year.

Besides his son and sister, he is survived by three daughters, Nicole Iannelli-Popolo, Luciana Linn and Vienna Trotta; two other sisters, Paula Aldi and Carla Aldi; and six grandchildren.

Services: Were Saturday. Burial was in Glenwood Memorial Gardens, Broomall.

Donations may be made to St. Paul's Church, 923 Christian St., Philadelphia 19147.