Mob wives star had a love affair with the LGBT community
No one had ever heard of Angela Raiola when she joined the cast of VH1's hit reality series "Mob Wives" in January 2012. An admitted fan of Botox and plastic surgery, the 50ish woman had had numerous face-lifts and breast augmentations.
She dressed like a sex pot and cussed like a sailor – the lifelong smoker had a voice so deep and gravelly that it startled people. As Big Ang she quickly became the breakout star of "Mob Wives" – audiences fell in love with her lovable, larger than life personality.
When Raiola died of cancer at age 55 on February 18, she was remembered as a kind soul, not only by her "Mob Wives" co-stars but by her neighbors in suburban Staten Island, New York.
Ang, they said, was always available to lend an ear and to offer a kind word. Her parties at "The Drunken Monkey," the Staten Island bar she owned for a number of years, had become legendary.
Among many other things, Big Ang was a self-admitted "fag hag." "I love 'dem' queens and 'dey' love me," she told me during a 2013 interview. "We both have a thing for clothes and shoes. Where can you have more fun than with the gays?"
Staten Island has long been New York City's most conservative borough – LGBT people have never felt welcomed there. But that didn't stop Ang from launching a weekly gay night at "The Drunken Monkey." She said there were never any problems with the surrounding neighborhood.
"We get a lot of gay people," she told me. "Everybody loves me."
Ang was also a supporter of marriage equality. "Have your wedding party at my bar!" she offered. According to Towleroad, Ang even helped a gay fan propose to his boyfriend.
As her popularity soared, Ang got her own spin-off series. In episode nine of "Big Ang," she parties hard with a group of gay men at the New York City Pride Parade. She became a talk show favorite, launched her own brand of Big Ang Wines and appeared in the movie Scary Movie 5. The more exposure she got, the more audiences wanted.
"I'm going to take this as far as I can," she told me in 2013.
But it wasn't meant to be. Diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015, Ang underwent surgery and appeared to have beaten it. Later in the year her cancer returned. It had spread to her brain and lungs and had reached stage 4. Ang bravely soldiered on, allowing the "Mob Wives" cameras to document her battle during the series' sixth season. Those episodes are currently airing.
A few weeks before she died, Ang gave her final interview on "The Dr. Oz Show." She already knew that the battle was lost. "I try to stay positive," she told Dr. Oz. She expressed concern for her children and grandchildren, saying that they needed her as she wiped away her tears.
Big Ang was a star who shone very brightly albeit briefly. We'd never seen anyone quite like her before. Its highly unlikely that someone like Ang will come along again. Rest in peace.