All About Angela 'Big Ang' Raiola's Dramatic Life

Get the inside scoop on the late reality show favorite, from her mafia-connected family to her own criminal history

Photo: Getty

Reality star Angela "Big Ang" Raiola died early Thursday morning, just weeks after news broke that she had been hospitalized amid a battle with stage 4 lung and brain cancer.

Fans and friends rallied around Raiola as her health worsened, raising more than $35,000 on a GoFundMe page for her treatment in just two days. The rapid fundraising came as no surprise, as the 55-year-old star’s over-the-top, hysterical antics on shows like Mob Wives had earned her legions of fans.

Raiola stole scenes on a number of reality series: She first appeared on season 2 of Mob Wives in 2012, and followed it up with her own spin-offs Big Ang and Miami Monkey. The late star also did stints on Celebrity Wife Swap and Couples Therapy with husband Neil Murphy.

So, who was the woman behind the scene-stealing pouty lips, husky voice and striking figure?

Born Angela Raiola, “Big Ang” was raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her uncle Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi was the captain of the Genovese crime family, one of the “Five Families” that control the mafia in New York City. Lombardi died in prison in 2009.

Raiola is survived by two grown children, Raquel Donofrio and Anthony “A.J.” Donofrio, who was married last summer, and six grandchildren, including newborn Anjolie Scotto, whom the family welcomed in January.

In 2001, Raiola was arrested for selling cocaine following an undercover investigation that targeted a New York City drug ring. The star was proven to be an associate of the ring’s leader, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison. According to the DEA and NYPD detectives, Raiola was given cocaine from the organization for “street level distribution.” She was caught selling cocaine to undercover cops and reportedly had 14 small plastic bags of the drug in her purse at the time of her arrest.

“People ask me why I did it. I was a single mom, supporting my family, paying $3,000 in rent. I did it for the money. I wouldn’t do it again and haven’t since. I learned my lesson,” she wrote about her crimes in her book Bigger Is Better: Real-Life Wisdom from the No-Drama Mama, excerpted in the New York Daily News.

After her arrest, Raiola was released from jail on a $100,000 bond. She was sentenced in 2003, receiving a punishment of three years’ probation and four months of house arrest. A judge also ordered her to enroll in a drug treatment program.

Raiola owned the famous Staten Island bar Drunken Monkey for years before it was shut down by the State Liquor Authority in 2015. Because she was convicted in a felony drug case, Raiola was prohibited from operating a business with a liquor license. Although the Drunken Monkey’s license was acquired in the name of Raiola’s cousin SallyAnn Lombardi, an investigation determined that Raiola was the establishment’s silent owner and had authority over all of the bar’s business affairs.

In a tougher turn, in April 2015, Raiola confirmed reports that she would be having a throat nodule removed.

“I went in for a test due to the nodule in my throat,” she wrote on Facebook. “I had a nerve wracking couple of days, as would anyone when you hear testing etc.. However, I am home peaceful and relaxing. This coming week I will be taking proper precautions and having it removed.

“Always look after yourselves and don’t neglect your health. I’m fortunate and blessed to have discovered something very early, and handle it in a positive manner. I thank you and I love you all from the bottom of my heart,” she added.

Raiola told PEOPLE she “quit smoking the day I found out” about the lemon-sized tumor.

“Things happen for a reason,” she said. “I’d smoked for 40 years. No one could tell me what to do.”

As Mob Wives embarked on its sixth and final season, Raiola was engaged in a harrowing cancer battle off-screen.

“Chemotherapy was started January 5th,” her sister Janine Detore wrote on the GoFundMe page she set up to fund cannabis oil treatment. “On January 26th the doctor reviewed her CT scan and informed us that the treatment was not working, and in fact one tumor grew larger and the other tumors had no change.”

“You would never know that she is in the fight of her life,” Mob Wives costar Alicia DiMichele told PEOPLE of Raiola’s hospitalization. “She is a wonderful mother and friend to all. I simply adore her and am proud to call her my friend. My boys and I are praying for her, she is BIG in our hearts.”

On Feb. 18, friend Vinnie Medugno announced Raiola’s death on her Twitter page with a heartfelt message:

“It is with sad regret that we inform you that at 3:01 a.m. Angela Raiola peacefully ended her battle with cancer, and was called home,” Medungo wrote. “She was surrounded by nothing but love from her immediate family, and the closest friends. YOU, (her fans) were some of the most special people in the world, and she loved you immensely. Thank you for your love, prayers, and unconditional support of Angela right to the very end.

“She truly went out richer than any monetary value could ever amount to,” he continued. “The family asks for privacy and peace during this most difficult time. In typical Big Ang fashion, we knew she would say ‘Love you my babies!’ This page will remain open as a celebration of who she was and will always be.”

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