Cult character actor Joe Spinel gives an atypically understated turn in “Taxi Driver” as a personnel officer, the taxi company employee who questions Travis about his reasons for wanting to drive a hack. The personnel officer is largely suspicious of Travis’ motives (“I mostly ride at night…I figure if I’m going to do this, I might as well get paid for it”) until they discover that they share a common past as former Marines. . Travis gets the job, which sets the story in motion.
Spinell was a genuinely gritty Noo Yawk presence in many major feature films in the 1970s and 1980s – he was Corleone Willi Cicci’s trigger in “The Godfather” and its sequel, loan shark Tony Gazzo in “Rocky” and ” Rocky II”, and a memorable presence in “Sorcerer” and “Cruising” by William Friedkin, as well as “Melvin and Howard” by Jonathan Demme and “Night Shift” by Ron Howard. Perhaps his most enduring role, however, is as a psychotic, mother-obsessed killer in William Lustig’s heartbreaking and gory “Maniac.”
Health problems, including drug and alcohol problems, disrupted Spinell’s career in the 1980s, and he spent the rest of the decade trying tough guys and the occasional lunatic in feature films. low-budget like “Rapid Fire” in 1989. The latter would mark Spinell’s final screen credit: it is dead in his New York apartment on January 13, 1989 at the age of 52.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).