NEW YORK (AP) — Angela “Big Ang” Raiola, the raspy-voiced bar owner who gained fame on the reality TV series “Mob Wives,” died early Thursday, nearly a year after being diagnosed with throat cancer. She was 55.
Raiola died at a New York City hospital while surrounded by friends and family, said series producer Jennifer Graziano.
A statement posted from Raiola’s Twitter account said she had “peacefully ended her battle with cancer.”
— Angela Raiola (@biggangVH1) February 18, 2016
“YOU (Her fans) were some of the most special people in her world, and she loved you immensely,” said the statement. “Thank you for your love, prayers, and unconditional support of Angela right to the end.”
Raiola was initially diagnosed in March 2015 with throat cancer that spread to her brain and lung.
Even as she fought the disease, the native New Yorker remained the candid, colorful figure that viewers came to know on VH1’s “Mob Wives” and her two sequels.
“You can call me Angela. I’ll call you handsome,” she told TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz during a pre-taped appearance that aired on his “Dr. Oz” show Feb. 16.
Raiola, nicknamed Big Ang for her nearly 6-foot height, told Oz she was trying to keep her spirits up as chemotherapy and radiation failed to check the disease. She had already undergone several surgeries, and her trademark flowing black hair was gone, replaced by a short, blond cut.
“I look at my kids and my grandchildren and I know how much they need me,” said Raiola, who lived with her daughter Raquel’s family on New York’s Staten Island, where Raiola ran the Drunken Monkey bar.
She wasn’t technically a mob wife: Raiola’s inclusion on the cable show’s second season in 2012 came courtesy of her uncle, the late Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi, a reputed captain of the Genovese crime family.
Raiola, known as a peacemaker when other cast members clashed, proved a standout. She starred in the spin-off “Big Ang” and its retooled version, “Miami Monkey,” although both were short-lived. Family members including her son, Anthony, and her sister, Janine, were among those who joined in her TV fame.
A cigarette smoker for 40 years, Raiola said she stopped immediately after her first cancer diagnosis last year. Her doctors told her the disease was “positively” caused by smoking, she said, and she called for people to quit the habit or resist picking it up.
Her sister and brother-in-law were key members of her support team, Raiola told Oz, but she said her husband, Neil Murphy, was no longer part of her life.
Raiola will remain part of upcoming episodes of “Mob Wives,” which wrapped production in January, producer Graziano said. The series finale airs March 9, with a reunion episode set for March 16.
Funeral arrangements for Raiola were pending.