Sunday, May 07, 2006, 10:06 PM // 17 comments

Artist and Writer Donald P. Altobell, 68, Succumbs to MS

Don AltobellPainter and illustrator Don Altobell, whose talents as an artist led him to camaraderie with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack in the early 1960s, died Sunday, May 7, at his home in Maple Shade, New Jersey, after fighting multiple sclerosis for more than 40 years.

Mr. Altobell was born in Philadelphia in 1938 to the late Paul and Anna Altobell. During his teen years, he was a body builder and frequent dancer on the original Bandstand television show. Following his graduation as an art major from Mastbaum Vocational School, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, from which he was honorably discharged. In 1959 he embarked on a career in advertising, beginning at N.W. Ayer, where he worked on accounts including AT&T, Sealtest, and Atlantic Refining (now ARCO). He was also a copywriter and media buyer at other local agencies and an account executive at radio station WRCP, before his MS-imposed retirement in 1972.

Frank Sinatra by Don AltobellAltobell’s talents as an artist opened doors for him, beginning at a very young age: At 12, a sketch of Rocky Marciano so impressed the fighter that he invited young Don to join him for breakfast. Later, Altobell’s passion for music—and especially his hero Frank Sinatra—blossomed in paintings of Old Blue Eyes, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Judy Garland that garnered him repeated backstage access at the original Latin Casino in Philadelphia and The 500 Club in Atlantic City. His drawings and writings about music and boxing appeared in publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, The Courier Post, The Burlington County Times, Audio magazine, and renowned boxing magazine The Ring. In addition, he wrote a column, “As I See It,” for the MSAA Motivator, the newsletter sent to Multiple Sclerosis Association of America members.

Mr. Altobell is survived by his wife, Martha (nee Mott), sons Paul and Stephen, stepdaughters Stephanie and Pamela, and grandchildren Rachel, Michael, Joseph, Ricky, Shelby, Nicholas, and Evan.

Mr. and Mrs. Donald P. AltobellA viewing for Mr. Altobell will be held at Immanuel Baptist Church, 12 South Poplar Avenue, Maple Shade, on Thursday, May 11, from 9-11 AM, with a memorial service immediately following. The burial will be private.

Mr. Altobell has requested that tissue from his brain and spinal cord be donated to MS research. In lieu of flowers, please send donations in Mr. Altobell’s name to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.

Click here to view Don's Art & Photo Gallery
Related post: Note to Self - My Dad

Labels: ,


Anonymous Your Good Friend -- Steve Murray said...

I'm sorry to hear about your father's passing. This man made more of an impact on me than you'll know -- my passion for Frank; his sense of humor -- who the hell is Sid Greenstreet? I often got inspiration from his articles, "As I see it". We can all learn from Don Altobell.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Mary Ellen said...


I am so sorry to hear about your father passing. I know he has not been doing well in the past year. I also know that no matter how prepared you think you may be, you’re not really. I lost my dad 11 years ago yesterday. He had been sick for a long time, and I actually wanted him to go, knowing that he wouldn’t want to live that way. When it finally happened, it was still very hard.

I know that you and your dad were close, and that you & Steve were his life. Be glad for that, and all he has left with you to remember and pass on to your kids.

Just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you.

Mary Ellen

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...


Sorry to hear about you father. I am also sorry I never met him. He seemed
like an incredible person. He is certainly in a better place now, where he
is free of pain and disability and has no cares in the world! Please give
us a call if you need anything.


3:31 PM  
Anonymous Jeanette Rich & Girls! said...

Paul - we are so so very sorry to hear about your dad! I know how hard it is! Your writings on him are absolutely beautiful and I am sure he is proud of you, and thanking you for them from above! With a smile, of course!

Take care - stand proud and keep smiling! Our prayers are with you & yours, as always!

Jeanette Rich & Girls!

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Brent said...

Dude, very sorry to hear the news, but thank you for letting us know & keeping in touch.

I'll always remember your dad as a nice guy who gamely put up with our various partying nonsense on countless occasions. The visit from Bill Bradley also stands out as memorable.

Hope everyone else is doing well on your end & best to all,


3:53 PM  
Anonymous Weave said...

I second what Brent said - oh what we put your father through!

I am sorry to hear of your father's passing - he is one figure of my teenage years that stood out, both for his passionate grasp of his "likes" (such as Frank or a good cigar) and his perserverance in battling that which was battling him. Not unlike the many articles that were posted in your living room back in the day (mainly on boxing and written by him), your Dad fought the good fight.

His presence in my life, even for the brief time we would see each other, is truely treasured.

My best to you and your family...

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Sidney Greensteet". He was an actor during the 40's. Don knew obscure stuff like that. He also loved to quote from movies. "Who said what to whom in what movie?" Generally, his boys knew the answer.

Here's some things about Don that not everyone knows:

He had hundreds of sayings. "What am I doing? I'm trumping ya!" (Thank you George Wetzel) Those who played cards with him heard that expression a hundred times. "Mishaghos" Another old chestnut. "Old chestnut." Yeah! He said that too. And so on. He fancied speaking yiddish. Knew many words. For example, I was a "telenica". The children were "boychics". Also, he would say that when he wore his glassses he could pass for being Jewish. Sunglasses made his look Iti. No glasses, well, just a guy from Jersey.

He was a stickler for the proper use of English. Heaven forbid if his children or even his first wife would use the words "bring or take" incorrectly, they were duly chided. Maybe that is the reason his boys speak so good -- ooops! well.

Another little known fact about Don, he did a great impersonation of Dean Martin.

Other idiosyncracies -- he would only eat certain foods with certain drinks. Could drive a waitress crazy. Those of you who dined with him in the old days know exactly what I mean. And no dressing on his salads. His love of Sinatra caused him to part his hair on the same side as Frank's, even if is was unnatural.

He worked for many ad agencies but I beleive his favorite was N.W. Ayer. He was quite a sight leaving the elevators on the 13th floor wearing his hat cocked like FS himself. Where are Frank or Bob or John or the other guys he would lunch with? "Better get that Sealtest ad down to George in the PD right now!"

Although a strick Baptist, he married a Catholic girl and agreed to raise his children as Catholics. That was a sacrifice for him but he assuaged his guilt by becomeing involved with the ecumenical movement and had both priests and ministers as guests in his home.

His love of music was fostered when he was a child listening to opera with his parents. Eventually, he developed his own loves -- primaily vocal standards. However, he never developed a real appreciation for more contemporay music, musicals, or even jazz, unless it was a song recorded by Frank, or maybe, Sammy. I bet he never ever listened to a rap or hip-hop song. Actually, he would never call them songs. Ever!

Don loved to get tapes from friends all over the world through a group of Sinatra fans. When he received one, he would play it and then edit it until every last strange background noise was gone. Sometimes for days. It had to be perfect. So what does his younger son do? He's a sound editor, among things. Like father -- like son.

As for sons, check out Paul's writing. Pretty good, isn't it. Also, a gift from his dad.
But I'm sure he will live on in his two sons and his grandsons. Someone has to keep the expression going "What am I doing? I'm trumping ya!"

4:18 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Damn, dude. Sorry to hear the news, but happy to hear you had an amazingly strong & courageous role-model. So stay strong yourself, OK my brother?


4:52 PM  
Anonymous Rachel -aka- JR said...

hey dad umm im sure your checking this but....i don't have the google thing at the top of my computer...and do you think you could make me a page...almost like myspace but safer???

all loves...

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Sid Mark said...

Dear Stephen,
I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of your dad. I can't tell you how many times we had spoken on Fridays and Sundays, mostly about Sinatra, but of course about you and the family as well.

I remember him calling about your film project, the joy we had working on it and the pride he had in watching it.

I will mention his passing on our Sunday program. I can't be exact about the time, but I'll try to do it in the 1st two hours of ballads. Please pass along my condolences to the rest of the family.

-Sid Mark

1:30 PM  
Anonymous mo said...

Hi Paul:

Deeply sorry to hear about your father - from what you describe he was a very courageous and special man.

Hope your memories bring you some comfort.

My deepest sympathies,


1:30 PM  
Anonymous Amy Dreyer said...

Hi Paul,

I just heard about your Dad's passing. Even when you see it coming and you know it was for the best, it still sucks!

From our last conversation you mentioned he was not doing well. At least now he isn't suffering anymore. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Take care,


P.S. I do think of him whenever I hear a Frank Sinatra song. It makes me smile. :)

2:21 PM  
Anonymous rich said...


My family and I have you and your family in our prayers. My grandmother told me when I was little that it takes three to five days from when a person dies till they get to heaven. She told me when they get into heaven there is likely to be a big storm and that’s how you know they arrived.

The forecast is for a thunder storm this evening.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Hey Paul,

So sorry to hear about your dad's passing. It sounds like he fought for a good while since the last time we talked. I've just had a chance to look at your Website now and I saw that the memorial service was this morning. I'm sorry, I had thought I might go but obviously missed it. I did go the MSAA site and make a donation in your dad's name -- you should get an e-mail from them confirming that. I hope you're holding up OK.



7:53 AM  
Anonymous mark said...


While I would love to be as eloquent as your family is able to be, I am not sure I have the same gift. To put it simply, I left your father's service quite moved. I was not only moved by the words that were shared by so many, but also your father's obvious spirit. His spirit as it relates to religion as well as his spirit as it relates to zest of life. Since I never met your Father I thought I was going today to be supportive to a college friend. It is obvious there was a grander plan at hand. I left today feeling emotional as well as lifted. Thank you for the opportunity to join in on the celebration.

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Gretchen said...

Paul –

First – this is an outstanding tribute to your dad (who by the way you look a ton like) – you should be proud of what you’ve put together here.

Second – I feel terrible that I am not there for you today…I had every intention of coming to the memorial service ….however, at the end of my eight hour drive back from Tremblant, Rich called me just before I arrived home last night at 10pm and told me not to make the trip down – that he would be there to ‘represent’ on my behalf – and that I had too much work to complete for Monday’s due diligence deadline on the golf academy. I of course told him that ‘he’s not the boss of me’ and that I planned on going anyway. As I was up getting ready to come there at 6:30am this morning, with my sciatic nerve screaming from last nights ride, it started raining and I finally concluded that the gods were telling me to listen to Rich for a change. Please forgive me for punking out on another 6 hours in the car – I hope you know my thoughts are with you and your family…having lost a parent 20 years ago I know it will be a tough day, week, year – but it also sounds like your Dad had an awesome spirit and an awesome legacy by passing it along to you.


7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoyed a lot! »

1:49 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

About Paul Altobelli

Paul Altobelli is a veteran Internet, marketing and technology professional with considerable expertise in search engine marketing, web site development, design, implementation and project management. [more]

Flickr Photos