Entertainment & Arts

Morgana King: Godfather actress and Jazz singer dies aged 87

Morgana King in her youth Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption King played Carmela Corleone - the wife of Marlon Brando's Don Vito - in the first two Godfather films

The Godfather actress and jazz singer Morgana King has died aged 87.

She played Carmela Corleone - the wife of Marlon Brando's Don Vito - in the first two Godfather films, alongside a Grammy-nominated jazz career.

King passed away from cancer on 22 March at her home in Palm Springs, California, the Riverside County coroner's office confirmed.

Her death had gone unreported until her friend John Hoglund posted a public message of condolence.

Paying tribute on Facebook he said that while "many will remember her as Marlon Brando's wife and Al Pacino's mother," King was also a "major part" of the jazz scene.

Born in New York to Italian parents, her father - a self-taught musician - died when she was 11, leaving her to be raised by her mother in the Bronx and attend James Munroe High School.

King's singing career began when she performed in clubs throughout her teenage years.

According to an article in JazzTimes, this included singing Body and Soul for Billie Holiday in her dressing room, at which the star remarked "take care of this baby, 'cause that's my child".

Respected by her peers, King went on to perform in Las Vegas and around the country as well as on television on The Tonight Show, Playboy After Dark and The Hollywood Palace.

A Grammy nomination for her 1964 hit single A Taste of Honey marked the commercial peak of her five-decade, 20-album career.

Iconic Godfather role

As rock'n' roll came to dominate the charts, King got her theatrical break in The Godfather after meeting with the trilogy's director Francis Ford Coppola.

The crime saga, starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as mafia kingpins of the Corleone family, won three Oscars and remains one of the most critically-revered series of all time.

Her portrayal of 'Mama' Carmela, Vito's long-suffering wife in 1972's opening instalment, featured virtually no spoken lines, but saw her take centre stage during its memorable wedding scene, singing the Italian song Luna Mezz'o Mare.

Image copyright Paramount Pictures
Image caption Kinq as Carmela Corleone (next to the bride) during The Godfather's famous wedding scene

She reprised the role for the 1974 sequel, but refused to be filmed in the coffin for superstitious reasons, leaving Coppola's mother to stand-in as a replacement.

According to The Washington Post, Coppola used King as a cultural reference point on set due to her Sicilian-born parents.

"Francis would ask me if the set looked like a real Sicilian house," she said in 1988. "I told him to put a statue of St. Anthony on the wall."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption King performing in Oakland, California in 1979

Beyond The Godfather, King appeared in 1998's Brooklyn State of Mind with Danny Aiello and ABC soap opera All My Children

She also continued a prolific singing career, performing in clubs throughout the decades.

She released her 20th studio album in 1992, and gave her last live performance in 2000.

King married twice, first to trumpeter Tony Fruscella, aged 17, but the couple divorced after nine years according to the LA Times.

She later married trombonist Willie Dennis in 1961 but he died in a car accident four years later.

A daughter from her first marriage, Graysan Simental, died in 2008.

Survivors include a grandson.

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