The Untold Truth Of Tony Danza

If it feels like Tony Danza has been on television forever, it's because it's kind of true. He's made himself very famous and very beloved playing regular, relatable characters on long-running TV sitcom favorites like "Taxi", as cabbie Tony Banta, and "Who's the Boss?", as single dad, romantic lead, and ex-baseball player-turned-housekeeper Tony Micelli. The Danza entertainment empire has since expanded to include many other television series, a daytime talk show, musical endeavors, and several runs on Broadway.

A big part of Danza's persona is warmth and familiarity — but how much does the general public really know about the guy whose name they sing instead of the title when Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" comes on the radio? Both before and after his rise to fame, he's lived a remarkable and varied life with a lot of accomplishments and unlikely adventures along the way. Here's the totally boss story of "Who's the Boss?" star Tony Danza.

You can call him Tony

Tony Danza is somewhat typecast in the sense that, over a period of more than 40 years, he's played characters much like himself — particularly guys named Tony. Born as Anthony Iadanza, and then adopting the derivative screen name of Tony Danza, the actor played a character named Tony in his first credited role, the 1978 made-for-TV movie "Fast Lane Blues." Later that year, Danza joined the cast of "Taxi" as Tony Banta, and in 1984, starred in "Who's the Boss?" for eight years as Tony Micelli. On the short-lived '90s sitcom "Hudson Street," Danza portrayed Tony Canetti, and on the also briefly-aired "The Tony Danza Show," he played Tony DiMeo (not to be confused with Danza's 2000s talk show, "The Tony Danza Show"). Finally, in the 2018 Netflix police comedy "The Good Cop," Danza portrayed Tony Caruso Sr.

That persistent trend began in earnest with "Taxi," and Danza's character was originally named Phil. "And then they made it Tony Banta, which sounded a lot better anyway," Danza told Esquire. "I think they were afraid that I might not answer to another name. It would force up my acting ability."

He was a pretty good wrestler and a boxer, too

Tony Danza attended Malverne High School in New York, and was such a star on the wrestling team that he earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Dubuque in Iowa. Upon graduation, Danza returned home, and in 1975, his friends played a prank on him by entering him in a Golden Gloves boxing tournament. The joke was no laughing matter, as Danza progressed all the way to the semifinals of the tournament. "I just got hooked on it and I loved it. I thought, and you're young and you're searching for what might be that thing that you do for the rest of your life, and I could really punch, and I could do it," Danza told Bloody Elbow.

Danza earned his living from boxing for a while in the mid-1970s, accumulating a professional record of nine victories and three losses, with all but one of his wins coming via knockout. While Danza would continue boxing into his tenure on "Taxi," boxing is what led him into acting. While training in a boxing gym, a man who worked in TV approached him. As Danza recalled, "He was a producer trying to put together a pilot for a show called 'Augie,' which was a combination of 'Chico and the Man" and 'Rocky.'" Danza reluctantly auditioned for the lead role and landed it. Although the pilot wasn't picked up for a series, it got Danza on the Hollywood track.

He could have been a Warrior

The big breakthrough came early in the career of Tony Danza: portraying cab driver Tony Banta on "Taxi," a role he'd play from 1978 to 1983. Around the same time that the ABC ensemble comedy was in pre-production, Danza had landed a part in "The Warriors," filmmaker Walter Hill's modern retelling of the ancient Greek historical narrative "Anabasis." "The Warriors" concerns a New York City gang trying to make its way home through dangerous territory. Danza was cast as the character Cowboy, but he exited the film when offered the role of Tony Banta on "Taxi," and he had to choose.

A latter role that Danza wouldn't get to play was Salvo in "Sebastian Says." A fictionalized account of the family life of stand-up comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, Danza portrayed the father of Maniscalco's semi-autobiographical character in the pilot episode of the sitcom. NBC ultimately decided against ordering the show to series.

He helped change John Stamos's life, twice

Tony Danza, or at least his familiar name, is the subject of a popular mondegreen, or misheard lyric. The chorus of Elton John's 1972 minor hit "Tiny Dancer" does not actually implore, "hold me closer, Tony Danza." But that misunderstood line triggered a revelation in a different 1980s sitcom star.

In the early 1980s, future "Full House" star John Stamos dated model-actor Teri Copley. One day, he entered Copley's guest house and discovered her asleep in bed with a man he couldn't quite identify, noticing only his well-developed abdominal muscles. "At first I was like, 'I'm going to kick his ...'" Stamos wrote in "If You Would Have Told Me" (via People). Instead, he took off. "I remember running down the driveway with tears streaming down my face and I don't want anyone to see me." On his way out, Stamos saw a poster of Copley in her car, autographed and addressed to "My Dear Tony." Then Stamos got in his car and turned on the radio. "Elton John is still singing, and that's when it hit me. I mouth the words to his most famous lyrics and realize the name of my rival: 'Hold me closer, Tony Danza ...'"

About a decade later, Stamos starred in "Full House," which received a massive early influx of viewers because ABC programmed summer reruns on its schedule immediately following "Who's the Boss?", starring Danza.

He looks after the legacy of Who's the Boss?

On "Taxi," Tony Danza was a supporting player. On "Who's the Boss?", he was the star. The 1984 to 1992 comedy would rank among the top 10 most-watched shows on broadcast television and earn Danza three Golden Globe nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Comedy or Musical and the opportunity to direct for the first time in his career. Danza took pride and ownership in the hit series, and its consistent success provided clout in helping determine a creative direction.

"It was a great script, there was actually stuff written," Danza told the Television Academy Foundation of "Who's the Boss?" producers' original intent to end the series with Danza's character, housekeeper Tony Micelli, finally coupling up with his boss, Angela Bower (Judith Light). "I was of a mind that it was never about that, it was about two people who weren't together, not people who were together and I wanted it to end that way." And it did — "Who's the Boss?" ended on an ambiguous note, suggesting a possible romantic future for the primary characters.

That relationship may be yet explored in a sequel series Danza is trying to make happen. He and his "Who's the Boss?" TV daughter Alyssa Milano are developing a revival for Amazon's Freevee streaming service. Plans were announced in 2020, but after various delays, it's still on the way. "We're waiting for the writers," Danza told ET Canada in 2022.

He became a teacher after all

Enrolling at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, Tony Danza attained a bachelor's degree in education with the aim of being a teacher. He went back home to New York City and then got involved with the professional boxing circuit, which led to an acting career. With two hit sitcoms in "Taxi" and "Who's the Boss?" and dozens of other film and TV roles occupying his time over the next three-plus decades, Danza finally returned to teaching and used his degree.

In 2009, Danza, at the time 59 years old, secured a position as an instructor of English literature for tenth graders at Northeast High School, the largest public school in Philadelphia. His one-year faculty spot was documented for "Teach," a reality series that aired on the A&E cable network."I cried three times the first week," Danza told the StarTribune about his extreme nervousness in his first week on the job, in which he was officially a co-teacher because he didn't have certification to be a fully accredited instructor in Pennsylvania. Throughout the school year, Danza taught one daily class, assisted with the football team, and helped plan a dance. During his stint, Danza was offered a role in a Broadway production of "La Cage Aux Folles," which he turned down to keep teaching.

He did a lot of theater

Best known for starring in numerous sitcoms, both quickly canceled ones like "Hudson Street" and mega-hits like "Who's the Boss?" (and the occasional film, like "She's Out of Control" or "Going Ape!"), Tony Danza made the leap to the stage in the late 1990s. He started out with revivals of very serious plays by acclaimed 20th-century American playwrights — Danza joined the cast of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge" and then a production of Eugene O'Neill's bleak "The Iceman Cometh." Those plays followed a role in the off-Broadway "Wrong Turn at Lungfish," which earned Danza an Outer Critics' Circle Award nomination.

After doing the harder stuff, Danza moved into lighter stage fare. In 2006, he joined the long-running production of "The Producers" as Max Bialystock (a role first occupied by Tony Award-winning Nathan Lane). Danza returned to Broadway for three months in 2015, to originate the role of Tommy Korman in a musical, theatrical adaptation of the comedy film "Honeymoon in Vegas."

The musical side of Tony Danza

Long before Tony Danza took the stage to perform in a Broadway musical, he showed off his previously little-known ability and enjoyment of singing. In 2002, Danza recorded what is to date his only album, a piece for Sin-Drome Records called "The House I Live In." Evoking mid-20th century crooners like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Perry Como, the album consists entirely of covers of swing and big band standards. Danza boisterously belted his way through familiar tunes, like "That's All," "Pennies from Heaven," "I'll Be Seeing You," and "God Bless America."

Danza also got to sing in one of his many TV sitcoms. In 2018, he starred in the single-season Netflix police comedy "The Good Cop." He also performed the theme song, a jazzy, crooner song in Danza's wheelhouse. Creator Andy Breckman asked Danza at the last moment, and he recorded it very quickly. "Nobody said to me, 'We want you to sing,'" he told Billboard. It all baffled Danza, because his co-star on "The Good Cop" is a much more accomplished singer, best-selling pop-opera performer Josh Groban.

He's not great with reporters

Making the media rounds to promote your work is part of the job when you're a well-known actor. Nevertheless, Tony Danza seems to barely tolerate the process. In 1998, Jacksonville TV station WJXX arranged for a live interview with Danza via satellite. In the pre-interview, an anchor kept asking Danza if he could hear her. He could not, because he went on a tirade. 

"You end up on those news shows so often, you know? And those news shows are terrible," Danza said. "I don't want to do this. I'm gonna be part of the local news, how exciting." As the anchor kept trying to get through to Danza, he kept going. "I'm having second thoughts about this. 'Right after murder and mayhem and the rescue in California, Tony Danza!' I'm so excited." Finally, Danza could hear the anchor, who teased, "No murder and mayhem, just the interview about your movie." "Oh, you heard me, huh?" he replied, and then continued to decry the sensationalism of TV news.

In April 2023, Danza was interviewed before the Broadway debut of "New York, New York" by theater reporter Rye Myers. "Relax a little. You're more excited than we are. Take it easy," Danza told the excited Myers (via Deadline). When Myers asked Danza if his preferred New York food was a pizza or hot dog, Danza answered, "You know what you gotta do, buddy? You gotta come up with better questions."

Grief nearly led to Tony Danza's death

In late December 1993, Tony Danza and his then-wife, Tracy, took a skiing trip to Deer Valley, a resort in Park City, Utah, where he owned a home. While taking a run, Danza skied into a rock, causing him to lose control and crash into a tree. Reports at the time said that Danza endured five broken ribs, internal bleeding, severe swelling, and bruising. He was hospitalized in the intensive care unit at a local facility, where he also submitted to surgical procedures.

In 2015, Danza shed some light on the reasons behind the accident and just how serious his injuries had been. "I hit a tree skiing backwards," he reported on "The Dr. Oz Show" (via ABC News). "The reason I fell is because I lost my mother." About six months before the skiing mishap, Danza's mother had died, and he was still experiencing tremendous grief because of the Christmas season, thinking about her while he skied to the point of distraction. According to Danza, his initially reported list of injuries was incomplete, as he'd fractured eight ribs (not five) and had broken his back.

There are many tributes to Tony Danza

A well-known and widely-liked figure for nearly five decades, Tony Danza's image, name, and personality have been thoroughly entrenched in popular culture. He's such a part of the fabric that he's frequently a namesake or an inspiration. In 2005, the first album by Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, an experimental extreme metal band from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was released. Danza has nothing to do with the group other than its name, which evokes the image of the star tap dancing on a 1989 TV special, honoring fellow hoofer Sammy Davis Jr., or on various talk shows.

Tony Danza raced in the 2014 Kentucky Derby, or at least a thoroughbred racehorse by that name did, although the actor of that name also attended the event. "It's thrilling," he told ABC News. (The horse finished third.) Danza was also the subject of a fictionalized and exaggerated comic play based very loosely on his life. "Boss: The Untold Tony Danza Story" debuted at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2014.

Tony Danza, cheese man

The mass influx of Italian immigrants into New York City in the 19th century led to the establishment of the Little Italy neighborhood. That's where, in 1892, Pina Alleva opened Alleva Dairy. It continuously operated for more than 130 years, becoming the oldest cheese shop in the United States. Expanding to offer deli and restaurant items and authentic, Italian-style cheese made on the premises, the Alleva family eventually sold the business.

In 2014, the Alleva family sold the business to John "Cha Cha" Ciarcia, who brought in a partner, a client from his 1970s job as a boxing coach: Tony Danza. The "Who's the Boss?" star became a boss for real, buying in as a full partner. "It feels like my mission to keep this piece of my Italian-American history alive," Danza told The Lo-Down. Seeking to save Little Italy's unique flavor and history from the encroachment of modernity, Danza worked at the shop and operated its stand at street festivals even after Ciarcia died in 2015. After facing eviction in 2022, the Alleva Dairy closed for good in 2023, ending Danza's time as a restaurateur.