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Opera singer, actress Teresa Tirelli dies at 81

LOS ANGELES -- Opera singer-actress Teresa Tirelli, best known for her cameo role as the stone-faced grape stomper in a classic episode of the 'I Love Lucy' television series, has died at age 81, relatives said Saturday.

Tirelli died Friday at Northridge Hospital as a result of a brain tumor, said her son, Nick D'Amico.

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Although she spent most of her career as a classical singer, Tirelli was perhaps best recognized as the somber Italian peasant who wrestles with Lucille Ball's charcater Lucy Ricardo while pressing grapes with their feet in a huge wine vat in a 1956 episode of the 'I Love Lucy' television series.

Tirelli appeared in the feature films 'A Bell for Adano,' 'The Godfather' and 'The Godfather Part II,' and in several television shows, including episodes of 'Playhouse 90,' 'Columbo' and 'Baretta.'

Her career also included 50 years of radio broadcasting, during which she attracted a huge following of Italian-American listeners.

Born in Pola, Italy, in 1908, Tirelli moved to New York in the 1920s and began appearing in live concerts and opera productions, including roles in 'La Traviata' and 'Madame Butterfly.' While performing in operas, Tirelli teamed with Nicolo D'Amico. The two performed in classical duets and eventually married.

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The couple moved to Los Angeles in 1943 and began performing at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in a long-running Italian novelty revue. The pair also had a live local radio show from 1948-63.

Tirelli's charity work earned her commendations from President Franklin Roosevelt and local officials.

She is survived by her five children, Nick D'Amico, Nicola D'Amico, Yolanda Visone, Beatrice Missadin, and Elvira Mastor; and six grandchildren.

A rosary was scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Los Angeles. Funeral services were scheduled for Tuesday.

The family suggested that any contributions be made to the Teresa Tirelli Memorial Fund for Brain Tumor Research in care of St. Peter's Church.

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