Santoni died of natural causes on Saturday 1 August, following several months of hospice care in Los Angeles.
Born in New York, Santoni started out as a theatrical performer, before making the switch to movies with Rod Steiger’s The Pawnbroker in 1964.
He appeared in more than 100 films and TV series throughout a career which spanned five decades, including Bad Boys (1983), Cobra (1986) and Doctor Dolittle (1998).
In Dirty Harry, Santoni played Inspector Chico Gonzalez, the character who delivers one of the film’s most famous lines: “No wonder they call him Dirty Harry... always gets the s*** end of the stick.”
Santoni featured in four episodes of the seminal sitcom Seinfeld, playing the character of Poppie, an unhygienic pizza chef.
His recent credits include TV series like Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, and Judging Amy.
News of Santoni’s death prompted an outpouring of tributes on social media. Filmmaker Steve Hughes described Santoni as “a wonderful character actor”.
Another wonderful character actor gone. RIP Reni Santoni, 81, so good in Seinfeld, Dirty Harry, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Cobra, Private Parts. Godspeed and thank you. pic.twitter.com/QlhTjg2Yqe— Steve Hughes (@moviegoblin)August 4, 2020
Rest in Peace #ReniSantoni Ferociously funny, talented actor, beautifully irreverent human and my friend. I love you man.— Elisa Gabrielli (@ElisaGabrielli1)August 4, 2020
Actor Eliza Gabrielli wrote: ”Rest in Peace #ReniSantoni Ferociously funny, talented actor, beautifully irreverent human and my friend. I love you man.”
Santoni is survived by his son Nick.