Peacemaker. Generous. She brought people together.
These are some of the terms used by family members and fans alike as they recalled Angela “Big Ang” Raiola at a series of viewings at Scarpaci Funeral Home (1401 86th Street) in Dyker Heights this weekend.
“I don’t really know what else to say other than that what you saw on TV is what you got,” Raiola’s cousin James told the New York Daily News at the viewing. “That was her.”
The raspy-voiced star known for her breakout role on VH1’s “Mob Wives” — whose nurturing streak and common sense life advice earned her two spin off shows — died at the age of 55 on Thursday, February 18 after a battle with lung and brain cancer.
A graduate of New Utrecht High School, Big Ang was the niece of low-level Genovese family crime boss Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi, who operated in Bensonhurst. The flamboyant, fun-loving star was proud of her mob connections and was not shy about her love of wiseguys and plastic surgery. A life-long smoker, Big Ang was first diagnosed with throat cancer in March 2014, but it seemed that she had beat the illness after quitting cigarettes and undergoing chemotherapy. In December, the cancer returned to her lungs and brain.
Raiola’s open-casket viewing was appropriately decorated to reflect her famously lavish tastes. Dressed in furs and a head scarf, the larger-than-life star rested on a bed of gold tassels. Floral displays at the funeral home were shaped like a Chanel logo, a stiletto, and a monkey statue pouring wine into a glass with her signature phrase “GET OVER IT!” according to reports.
About 100 of Ang’s fans — whom she’d affectionately call “her babies” — were offered front-row access to the viewing, forming a line down 86th Street, as chicly dressed “Mob Wives” breezed in to pay their respects. Meanwhile, members of the press allowed to shoot photos of the star-studded service from across the street.
Several fans held photos of Raiola and talked about what she meant to them.
Champaign Smalls, who trekked out from the Bronx to score a prime spot at the viewing on Saturday, told us she “cried and prayed” when she heard that Big Ang had passed on.
“She’s a peacemaker and that’s how I am,” said Smalls. “She likes to unite people she’s not into the fighting and drama.”
Mourners who knew Ang well, remember her similarly. Sallyann Russo, who owns a fashion boutique in Bay Ridge, described Ang as a “dear, dear customer” with an eye for fashion, who would buy “only the best.”
“Generous,” she said tearfully. “That’s the first word that comes to mind. You don’t know how generous she was. She always gave like this: ‘take, take, take.'”
On Monday morning, the family held a private funeral a few blocks over, at Basilica of Regina Pacis (1230 65th Street). Raiola’s estranged husband Neil Murphy, who appeared with Ang on VH1’s Couples Therapy, was seen looking solemn at all of the memorial events.
Big Ang’s younger sister Janine Detore, 49, who also appeared with her family on the show, revealed to US Weekly that Raiola had come to terms with death in her final days.
“She was so at peace with death,” Detore told Us. “She was OK with it. She said she didn’t want to live being on the medicine, doing all that. She didn’t want to do that. And she said, ‘If it’s my time, it’s my time. Just tell me. I want to spend my time with the grandchildren and with my family.’ She wanted to be home and all that.”
Detore also told the New York Daily News that her sister hoped to use the publicity surrounding her death to help sick children at Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“Any time she would be depressed, she’d see (the St. Jude commercial) on the channel and say, ‘I can’t be depressed, because this is depression — these kids are going through this.’ She cared about the kids,” Detore told the outlet.
Not all of the “Mob Wives” got to say farewell to the show’s matriarch. The Daily News reports that Karen Gravano and Brittany Fogarty, both daughters of mobsters who infamously cooperated with the FBI, were informed on their way to Saturday’s viewing that they were unwelcome at any memorial events because of their presence would make other guests uncomfortable.
As we’ve reported, “Sammy The Bull” Gravano — who is currently in prison — helped federal agents take down mafia kingpin John Gotti. John Fogarty, Brittney’s dad, has been in witness protection nearly 25 years for sharing evidence about other mafiosi with the police.
The outlet reports that despite the bad blood, Big Ang — always the peacemaker — took both women under her wing:
Their daughters are often referred to as “baby rats” within the organized crime ring due to their fathers’ willingness to work with authorities, which often made for contentious relationships between them and other members of “Mob Wives” cast.
Big Ang, however, was one of the few people willing to look past Brittany Fogarty’s family history and accept her after she joined the show last year, which is why the 25-year-old reality star was particularly distraught that she was banned.
“She’s very upset,” Brittany’s mother Andrea Giovino, who was also banned from the events, told the outlet. “She can’t even talk on the phone. She’s just been crying. Big Ang treated her like a daughter.”
Raiola is survived by two children and six grandchildren.