Angela “Big Ang” Raiola, the towering, cigarillo-puffing star of the hit VH1 reality series Mob Wives, is truly a sight to behold.
The 52-year-old glamazon stands more than six feet tall with massive breasts (36J, to be exact). She has 12 tattoos—including Omertà, a mob term meaning “code of silence,” on the back of her neck—speaks in a deep, husky voice, and is almost always in good spirits. Like a cross between Jersey Shore’s busty star JWoww and Joan Rivers, Big Ang has captured the hearts of viewers across America with her va-va-voom looks, raspy laugh, and no-bullshit approach to living.
For the uninitiated, Mob Wives has become a cultural phenomenon.
The reality series follows six Staten Island women whose husbands or relatives have been arrested for mob-related crimes. There’s Renee Graziano, daughter of Bonanno crime family consigliere Anthony Graziano; Drita D’Avanzo, whose husband, Lee, has been busted for drug dealing and bank robberies; Karen Gravano, the daughter of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano; Carla Facciolo, whose spouse Joseph Ferragamo was recently released from prison; Ramona Rizzo, the granddaughter of former mobster Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero, who was played by Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco; and last but certainly not least, Angela “Big Ang” Raiola, niece of Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi, late captain in the Genovese crime family.
The final two ladies, Ramona and Big Ang, are new cast members who joined the show for its second season. The Jan. 1 premiere netted 3.5 million total viewers, making Mob Wives one of the highest-rated reality programs on cable.
“If I go out to smoke a cigarette, the cars are honking and people are screaming, ‘Big Ang, we love you!’” Big Ang told The Daily Beast from inside her Staten Island bar, The Drunken Monkey. “The bar is blowing up. We have people coming from California, Mississippi, all over. People came from Saudi Arabia last night with their bodyguards to come and see me! They said everyone in Saudi Arabia loves me.”
On Mob Wives, since Big Ang is friends with all the ladies, she acts as the de facto peacekeeper/voice of reason on the show, which pits longtime friends Drita and Carla against Ramona and Karen, the latter of whom used to date Drita’s husband. Fistfights and shouting matches inevitably ensue.
“I’m a lot older than them, so I’m a little calmer,” said Big Ang. “But I’ve never been much of a fighter. I’m trying to keep the peace with the girls, but it’s really not working out!”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Big Ang eventually settled in Staten Island, growing up on Avenue U—which was, according to Ang, filled with social clubs and wise guys on every corner. Her best girlfriend was also named Angela, so when she was 13, they were given the nicknames “Big Ang” and “Little Ang.”
She has fond memories of her uncle Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi, a capo in the Genovese family—the most powerful of the “Five Families” that controlled organized crime activities in New York City. He passed away two years ago in prison, after serving 22 years behind bars.
“One time, we thought he was being followed and watched, and so we went to a makeup artist where they change around movie stars, and he looked completely different,” said Big Ang. “At the end of the night, [the makeup] was chipping off his face! But he was a good guy.”
Big Ang is mother to two children—a daughter, who isn’t featured on the show, and a son, A.J., who lives in Brooklyn and operates a pizzeria and produce shop. After she had her daughter, Big Ang caught the plastic-surgery bug.
“I was like, ‘I’m not walking around at 25 years old with my boobs around my waist!’ Sorry, that ain’t me!” exclaimed Big Ang. “So, three months after she was born, I had my first set of implants, then I had them again in ’95 and ’05 ... and a tummy tuck!” She added, “Anything that can make you look good and stay looking good, I’m all for it! Who wants to look old and wrinkly? I always want to look young and beautiful.”
Always heavily involved in the mob scene, Big Ang operated a number of Mafia hangouts—including her longtime bar, The Drunken Monkey, which she co-owns with Lombardi’s daughter. She attributes her godmother-like diplomatic role on Mob Wives to her years of experience dealing with unruly patrons at her various establishments—one of whom was a young Drita.
“She had a boyfriend and they were always fighting, and if anyone came in and looked at him, she just beat them up,” said Big Ang. “She was very jealous and a crazy kid!”
One time, Big Ang’s bar activity got her in some hot water. In May 2001, she was indicted on six felony counts, including conspiracy to distribute cocaine. According to court documents obtained by The Smoking Gun, she was rounded up in “Operation White Heat”—an 18-month joint investigation by the DEA and the NYPD focused on various criminal activities, including narcotics distribution. Big Ang eventually pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and was sentenced to three years’ probation and four months’ house arrest. For her part, Big Ang is very remorseful.
“I was stupid and didn’t think of what the consequences were going to be—selling drugs and stuff,” she said. “At the time, I was a struggling single mother, and I regret those days. Any other young mother that’s struggling: always go to a friend for help. My mother and father passed away when I was 27, so I was all on my own.”
Big Ang is much happier these days, she said. She’s married to a 38-year-old sanitation worker—“That makes me a cougar!” she jokes—and the two recently reconciled after a year-and-a-half split. They’re planning a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a second honeymoon this Easter.
And then there’s Mob Wives. The Drunken Monkey has become a tourist attraction in Staten Island—during our early-afternoon interview, several fans popped in and asked for pictures and autographs. She’s mobbed every trip she takes to the local mall, celebrities like Kanye West have tweeted their endorsement, and she’s appeared on talk shows ranging from Jimmy Kimmel Live! to The Wendy Williams Show.
“Sometimes I just sit there and I think, ‘What the hell happened?’ It’s crazy, and I’m very flattered!” said Big Ang, unleashing her trademark cackle. “Every day’s another surprise lately! Whatever comes, I’m just going with the flow. That’s how I live, day by day.”
Mob Wives is produced by Electus, an operating business of IAC, a Newsweek/Daily Beast parent company.