Angela Raiola, the formidable but lovable reality star known as “Big Ang” who attracted a cult following on VH1’s “Mob Wives,” died Thursday in New York. She was 55.
Ms. Raiola died from complications of cancer in a hospital after she contracted pneumonia, Jennifer Graziano, the show’s creator and executive producer, said.
Big Ang, whose nickname stemmed from her larger-than-life personality (and her apparent fondness for augmentation by plastic surgery), was a niece of Salvatore Lombardi, known as Sally Dogs, of the Genovese crime family. She had been open not only about her illness, but also about her struggles, including a felony drug conviction.
Even as her health worsened, Ms. Raiola documented her life on “Mob Wives” and “Couples Therapy,” also on VH1. The cameras rolled as she detailed her discovery of Stage 2 throat cancer and, later, the removal of a lemon-size tumor from her throat. She also documented a medical visit in which a doctor told her she had to have a biopsy on her lung. A longtime smoker, she was frank about how difficult it was for her to kick the habit.
Ms. Raiola discussed her condition on the “Dr. Oz” show broadcast Tuesday, revealing that she had Stage 4 lung and brain cancer.
“I was smoking for 40 years,” she said. “I think whoever smokes should quit, and if they didn’t start, don’t start.”
Ms. Raiola is survived by her husband, Neil Murphy; two children, Anthony and Raquel D’Onofrio; and six grandchildren.
“Mob Wives,” which had its premiere in 2011, offered a glimpse inside the lives of women tied to the Mafia — a sisterhood whose hierarchy is determined by its members’ ability to remain silent about the actions of their husbands, fathers or sons.
On the show, minuscule shifts in allegiances could result in expletive-filled showdowns. The feuds often carried over into Twitter, helping to ensure a ratings hit for the network.
But it was Ms. Raiola’s raspy voice; tall, buxom appearance (she was said to stand 5-foot-10; and ability to add comic relief and common sense to tense situations that made her a fan favorite. Catfights, she said, were not her forte.
“I’m in my 50s; they are in the 30s,” she said of the other women. “I’m going to teach them manners.”
She had a short-lived spinoff on VH1 called “Big Ang,” which followed her marriage and her life as a bartender at the Drunken Monkey, a bar on Staten Island. In 2014, a patron died after he was punched outside the establishment.
Last March, the bar was shut down after a New York State Liquor Authority investigation found that Ms. Raiola, who did not hold its liquor license, was acting as owner and operator, The Staten Island Advance reported.
Ms. Graziano said Ms. Raiola’s status as a fan favorite extended to people who worked on the show.
“She would feed the entire cast and crew,” Ms. Graziano said, adding that Ms. Raiola loved “any, any excuse for a party.”