In cooperation with the Paradies Shops at Long Island MacArthur Airport, comedian/actor /author Sal Richards made an appearance last week to sign and promote copies of his book, "Behind the Laughter, Hidden Tears," chronicling the ups and downs, both professional and personal, of his nearly 50-year career in show business.
The event, which is the first book signing held at the Airport, came about through a chance meeting about a month ago between Richards and the Paradies Shops General Manager Al Morganelli. Richards, a 1956 Port Jefferson High School graduate following his family's move to Long Island from Brooklyn and currently a resident of West Palm Beach, Fla., was en route back down to his home when he was introduced to Morganelli by an associate at the Shop.
"He said he'd wrote a book, I said I'd love to have him do a signing, and here we are," said Morganelli, adding that he discovered by a strange coincidence that his wife once babysat for Richards's children.
Richards is a headlining comedian at several Las Vegas casinos, in addition to acting roles in both TV (Tony Colangelo in "the Sopranos", a brief appearance during the wedding scene of "The Godfather") and movies (Johnny Gold in the 1998 poker-themed thriller "Rounders"). The book picks up where the documentary film "Mr. Laughs - A Look Behind the Curtain" had left off in some respects, said Richards. The film won in the Best Feature category in a number of festivals, including the Long Island Film Expo, the Las Vegas Film Festival and the Santa Monica Film Festival.
Released in 2008 and narrated by actor Vincent D'Onofrio and featuring interviews with fellow comedians Jackie Mason, Sid Caesar and Don Rickles among others, "Mr. Laughs" details his beginnings as a singer-turned-comic and his rise to stardom but doesn't shy away from the low points, including his own battles with throat cancer and a quadruple bypass surgery as well as the travails of his children - Richards's son, Sal Jr., tragically slipped into a coma and died at the age of 21 while his other son, comedian/actor Guy Richards, struggles with bipolar disorder.
"It's a mix of both, first were the laughs and then the tears," Richards said, accompanied by his wife RoseAnn. "After I'd do a show, I'd sit backstage thinking 'Why are they laughing?' The audience didn't see that though. I was being selfish."
Airport Commissioner Teresa Rizzuto praised the signing, adding that her distant cousin, the late Yankee great Phil Rizzuto, had attended celebrity golf tournament fundraisers at an exclusive country club in Nassau County some years ago where Richards had worked.
"It's a good promotion for the airport," she added. "It keeps the customers involved. It's exactly the direction we want to go in."
Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan, also on hand for the event, said he was glad for the chance to meet Richards, in addition to thanking Rizzuto for helping provide a platform for him and the airport to benefit in the process.
"I look to the Commissioner for opportunities to promote the airport, and this is a nice fit," he said. "He's been a Long Island person most of his life, and he has a wonderful story, mixing humor with the poignancy of life."
Richards will begin shooting a feature film entitled "Crackers" this September in New Jersey, set to star D'Onofrio, Jerry Stiller and Brenda Vaccaro, and written by "Mr. Laughs" director Greg Principato.