One of Santoni’s most notable roles was on “Seinfeld” as Poppie, an unhygienic restaurateur. He had a recurring role as one of Arthur Hill’s assistants on the final season of ABC’s “Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law” (1973) and played Daniel in “28 Days” (2000), starring Sandra Bullock.
Santoni is survived by his wife and stage director, Lisa James, and son, Nick.
Bryan Alexander of USA Today wrote:
Prolific character actor Reni Santoni, who partnered with Clint Eastwood in "Dirty Harry" and Sylvester Stallone in "Cobra," and who portrayed Poppie the pizza chef in "Seinfeld," has died at 81.
Santoni died in hospice Saturday after a long illness, TV writer and producer Tracy Newman said of her longtime friend.
The New York City native Santoni starred in 1971's "Dirty Harry" as rookie detective and college sociology major Chico Martinez who gets paired up with Eastwood's "Dirty" Harry Callahan. The cop collaboration came despite Callahan's objections ("Just what I needed, a college boy").
Santoni delivered the famous line about his on-screen partner, "No wonder they call him 'Dirty Harry,' (he) always gets the shit end of the stick."
In 1986's "Cobra," Santoni played Sgt. Tony Gonzales who is paired with Stallone's Lt. Marion Cobretti to protect a model (Brigitte Nielsen) from the "Night Slasher" killer.
In TV's "Seinfeld," Santoni portrayed the argumentative, restaurant-owning Poppie, who overcame his poor bathroom hygiene issues but had continuing bladder control problems in appearances.
Writer and director Carl Reiner tapped a then-unknown Santoni to star in his semi-autobiographical 1967 film "Enter Laughing." He played New York City delivery boy David Kolowitz, who dreams of starring in movie.
Reiner and Santoni worked together again in 1982’s "Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid," starring Steve Martin.
Santoni made appearances as Sgt. John Castle on "Hardcastle and McCormick" and Lt. Rivera on "Manimal," along with police show guest star roles in "Hawaii Five-O," "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue" and "Miami Vice."
RIP Chico, the original and the best of partners