After battling stage 4 lung and brain cancer, Mob Wives star Angela “Big Ang” Raiola died in the hospital in the early hours of Feb. 18, surrounded by loved ones. She was 55.
More than 200 mourners gathered at the Basilica of Regina Pacis in her hometown of Brooklyn, New York, on Monday for her funeral. And at her wake, pal Vinnie Medugno presented a eulogy penned by friend Diane Morton-Gattulo that speaks to her legacy of laughter and zest for life. At their request – and that of show creator and producer Jennifer Graziano – PEOPLE is sharing the full text below.
The final season of Mob Wives, which captures Raiola’s positive spirit despite her health crisis, airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.
Today we gather to honor and celebrate the person that defined more than the two words “Big Ang,” but rather, Angela Raiola-Murphy, who I shared quite a different relationship with, than most people had.
I guess originally, I was supposed to be part of her team, assisting with this massive operation of being a reality TV star. Suffice to say anyone who knew her wayward nature along with her family, namely her sisters and brothers, they immediately opened this imaginary back door into their private lives, and swept me into their family as one of their own.
I’ll never forget the day, when her sister Janine assigned me to go on what would eventually become one of the first ever appearances that I would accompany her on. It was to a book signing in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Now I want you to imagine this scene …
We hardly knew anything about each other, and I was told to just show up in her driveway and she would come out. I didn’t even have her cell phone number yet. I thought to myself, “These people are crazy! Some random kid shows up at a high profile celebrity’s house, and no one in their right mind checked into anything about who I was or where I came from…” In her charming and effervescent way, she came down the steps of her home on Wagner Street and greeted me with a Moore cigarette in one hand, and an excessively large bedazzled iPhone in the other. With her sunglasses on and a red streak in her hair, she gave me a smirk, and threw the keys at me to AJ’s Escalade that was loaded with over 500 books and said, “Let’s go, you’re driving!”
This would be the first of many adventures that I had the privilege of participating in.
Needless to say, every adventure became bigger and better (no pun intended), and more grandiose from there on out. I remember saying to myself, “What did Janine get me into!” I guess I was the perfect fit for the task of being a social media director, a personal handler (for not just her, because eventually her girlfriends would accompany us on these journeys, and we all know how fun they are), a valet, a merchandise salesman, a bathroom attendant, a security guard, which worked out quite well considering our very noticeable size differences, her manicure consultant, and one of the brains in any quick-witted, fast-money-making scheme we could come up with. I was even her assistant manager some nights by closing the Monkey and counting the cash after a big night of business and partying. Basically I was, and still am, the young kid who lives at home with his mother and father, and had no one to answer to after being out with Angela from sundown to sunup. My grandmother even called her my fiancée at one point. It was a very committed relationship.
But I digress…
To know Angela was to love Angela. She was not the sentimental and overly affectionate type. In fact that made her uncomfortable if you “cramped her style.” If you were a good time, and fun-hearted like her, that was all of the love she needed to share with you. Her actions spoke volumes to explain just how BIG she loved.
Angela was the type to give of herself time and again. In the very short time of her celebrity coming into her life, she paid it forward more times than anybody I know, probably better than most of today’s A-List names that have much more than she ever did. Charity and humanity were two of the best characteristics and qualities that Angela embodied.
Along with her longtime friend Jennifer Patafio, affectionately known as “Little Jen,” the two formed a beautiful organization called Big Ang’s Angels, which made a difference in the lives of every individual it touched. The mission of this philanthropic effort was to provide aid, and financial relief to those in need. Angela would act quickly upon any and every request that would come her or Jen’s way.
The recipients of her generosity and selflessness were not only Staten Islanders devastated by Hurricane Sandy, but also Brooklyn-ites, extended family members of lifelong Howard Beach friends, families in the Rockaways, and even some habitants of the Jersey coastline. She personally cooked meals for people, gave clothing to children, drove kids to school, and even drove a truckload of washers and dryers out to those who needed them.
Some other efforts that she made it her business to partake in was to visit and take students with special needs from the Hungerford School on shopping sprees. One girl in particular referred to Angela as her best friend after Angela bought her half of the clothing in the Strawberry Store.
She worked extensively on raising funds and awareness toward the fight against breast cancer annually as a champion member of the Doll Face Diva’s Making Strides team. Because of her help, they are one of, if not the TOP fundraising teams in the state of New York for the American Cancer Society.
There wasn’t a charity or cause too big or too small for Angela to lend a helping hand to. She never turned anyone down, unless she was out of town, and still in good faith made a monetary donation to that cause or foundation. Many of times I personally accompanied Angela on long stretch evenings of three paid appearances, and she would stop at a charity event or personal cause, even if it were for just a half hour, unpaid and lend her services of meeting and greeting with fans to raise money and give support.
If someone looking to host an event had no guidance or where with all to put it together, Angela not only opened up her Drunken Monkey to host the event free of charge, but she also called upon Little Jen and her sister Janine to carry out all of the specific details in launching the event. I too was always the DJ free of charge for any cause that she believed in. If Angela supported it, we all did!
One of the first encounters I had with Angela was at a meeting in her sister’s home organizing a fundraiser for a little boy named Philip Okapa who eventually passed away from a brain tumor. That’s when I knew that Angela was way more than Big Ang, the reality television star. She did everything in her power to give comfort and aid to this little boy. With the money they raised, they were able to give that child a proper and beautiful burial.
I was recently shared a beautiful story by one of her longtime friends Diane Gattullo, about a trip she took to Florida. They were traveling to visit another close friend of Angela’s (Jill). In fact it was something I learned and found very astonishing about Angela, but was not surprised because of her character. During the flight she took notice of what seemed to be a lost young lady. On the plane she learned the young lady signed herself out of rehab and was flying to Florida to return to using. Angela spent the three hours of the plane ride alongside another one of her dear friends Kim Capone speaking to this young lady, not as a celebrity, but as a mother and a concerned human for this girl’s well-being. Up until Angela became really sick, she played a sort of secret role as the girl’s sponsor and spoke to her multiple times in a week to ensure she stayed sober. To this day, the young lady attributes her sobriety and new outlook on life to being touched by a Big Angel that God happened to put in the same row of seats on the airplane ride that basically shaped the rest of her life. But don’t worry because Kim stays in contact with her.
Her most recent goal which she didn’t get to finalize, but has plans set in motion, was to create a safe haven for young adults battling addiction. She was adamant on being a staunch supporter of families that struggle from this on a daily basis. She recognized that this is an illness and needs to be treated with compassion, and counseling. I hope for her sake that one day her dream becomes a reality.
In my observation from the outside looking in, I’d say Angela was very rich in many ways, and I’m not referring to her amazing collection of every name-brand handbag and designer shoe or fur coat. I mean in the simple joys that she had which we take for granted every day. I’d like to share some of her riches with you now. Her six precious grandchildren, her two beautiful children Raquel and AJ, her loving and supportive siblings (Dom that includes the fact that she saw you as a brother and someone she could always depend on), her countless nieces and nephews, which include her godchildren, the multitude of acquaintances, and most importantly her girls. And I stress that in her life, she held each of you in a special very place within her heart, and never once did you ever have to compete for her love. And I think you should annually continue your Christmas dinner tradition at Rao’s in her honor. And lastly she was extremely blessed with not one, but three very amazing and instrumental men in her life who came together as close friends to love and protect her and assure that they would take care of her to the very end, and that is just what James, Robert, and her husband Neil all did.
In quoting Clarence the angel’s inscription in the front cover of George Bailey’s Tom Sawyer book in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, he wrote, “Remember no one is a failure who has friends!” In that case not only was Angela rich, but she was immensely successful. In true Angela fashion, she was surrounded in the hospital by her family and close friends during her journey home. I was moved when watching her mother-in-law Maryanne hold her hand during her final journey at her bedside, until her own mother Jean gently took her hand and welcomed her home on the other side. Angela’s last moments were full of support, dignity, and unconditional love, as she calmly crossed into her next life in Celia, Jennifer, and Janine’s arms.
At age 55, Angela managed to accomplish in that time span more than most average people do in their lifetime, and she always owed a personal debt of gratitude to Jennifer Graziano, who helped her reach her fullest potential. I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge her on-screen costars, who will celebrate her legacy from Mob Wives, to the Big Ang show, to Miami Monkey,Celebrity Wife Swap, Couples Therapy, countless amounts of press appearances, a line of fine wines, and a coffee table book. These were just some of her greatest accomplishments. George Hamilton, Sir Anthony Hopkins, P-Diddy, Rihanna, Nikki Minaj, and Lil’ Kim were just some of her more high profile fans and friends. Thank you to Steve Spinelli her amazing friend and lawyer for always looking out for her and had nothing but her best interest at heart. She truly loved you!
If it were up to Angela, right now we would be on the dance floor in her absolute favorite nightclub, Pastels, as part of a five-night disco celebration of her life, where every night she would be in a more elaborate outfit, with drinks going around, and disco classics playing loud! Truly she was not here for a long time, but most definitely a good time. Until we meet again where I’ll be DJ-ing in your nightclub in the sky, as you affectionately told everyone, I say to you, sleep easy my baby, and may God bless you from now until eternity. Thank you for all you have brought to my life, it was my distinct pleasure to walk alongside you through many adventures, and many life lessons. I will always love you.