MTV during the early 2000s was magical, a place where political correctness and quality didn’t belong. They’d moved past doing silly things like playing music on the station, instead filling up the time with a variety of reality shows. Following in the footsteps of Tom Green, who I refer to as a proto-troll, the network created Jackass, and soon after came Viva La Bam. Hosted by Bam Margera, the show also cast some of Bam’s family, including his uncle Vincent Margera. Vincent, nicknamed “Don Vito”, quickly became an audience favorite. Now, almost a decade after the show’s cancellation, people are wondering what happened to Don Vito and his legendary jowls.
A History of Pranks: Jackass
Not much is known about Don Vito’s life before he rose to celebrity on Viva La Bam. He was born as Vincent Roy Margera on July 3, 1956, in Chester, Pennsylvania. He never married, but his brother Phil did. Phil had two sons, Jess and Brandon. Brandon was given the nickname “Bam” by his grandfather, when he was just three years old, in homage to his habit of running into walls.
In 1999, Bam released Landspeed presents: CKY, which had a mix of skits focused on stunts, pranks, and absurd behavior, with some skateboarding tricks mixed in. There was eventually a series of videos, all involving a loose collective of Bam’s friends and family, referred to as the CKY Crew. (CKY stands for Camp Kill Yourself.) Vincent Margera was a part of the CKY Crew, though he was more often a victim of pranks than the perpetrator. If you’re wondering why they call him Don Vito instead of Vincent Margera, it’s because how he speaks is incredibly difficult to understand, reminiscent of Don Vito Corleone’s speech affectation in the Godfather movies.
At the same time, Johnny Knoxville was pitching his ideas for stunts to various people, including Jeff Tremaine, an editor at Big Brother Magazine. A skateboarding magazine, Big Brother took an interest in Knoxville’s antics, and hired him to test a variety of self-defense equipment on himself. Knoxville was tased, maced, and even shot wearing a bulletproof vest, all clips which went into a Big Brother film.
Tremaine, after producing the second Big Brother film, saw Margera’s films and drafted the CKY Crew into what would eventually become the cast of Jackass. With a cast and concept, Tremaine helped pitch the show around. It was almost picked up by Saturday Night Live, but after a bidding war between Comedy Central and MTV put the project out of their reach, it eventually ended up on MTV.
Jackass premiered on October 1, 2000, and released 25 episodes over three seasons. The show ended in 2003, rather abruptly as the CKY Crew left production early. They had problems with, among other things, how the show was increasingly controlled by MTV and censors. After the show ended, almost everyone from the cast found a place somewhere else on television or in film. Johnny Knoxville appeared in a variety of films through the rest of the decade, but Bam Margera received his own show on MTV.
Don Vito on Viva La Bam
Viva La Bam premiered on October 26, 2003. The first episode, which guest-starred Tony Hawk, showed Bam Margera building a skate park inside his parents’ house. From there, they produced five seasons of eight episodes each. Don Vito was in most episodes, continuing to serve as the victim of many of Bam’s pranks. Through the show, one of the recurring jokes was that it was really hard to understand what Don was saying. So hard, in fact, that they gave him subtitles, even though he was speaking English.
The subtitles played into this joke, as well, sometimes rendering his speech as the gibberish it was. Some of the more ridiculous subtitles put under Vito’s words were “wide yugonna rip me out to woodin the Helen yuhgot mandah makin!” and “juwala huvada haba den!”
Don Vito wasn’t just on the show to be made fun of for his accent, though. The CKY Crew also repeatedly brought attention to Vito’s abundance of chins, and his heterotropia, or lazy eye. To be clear, it might not be that these jokes were made entirely at Don Vito’s expense. Long-time fans of Jackass and the CKY Crew might notice that Vito’s accent and behavior became more exaggerated as the show went on.
This indulgence of his Don Vito character eventually hurt Vincent Margera”s career and personal life severely. In August 2006, over a year after the end of Viva La Bam, Vito was arrested in Colorado, suspected of inappropriately touching two 12-year-old girls. He paid his $50,000 bail, and retained Pamela Mackey as his lawyer. Mackey, most famous for defending Kobe Bryant in 2004, argued that Margera was acting as his “vulgar” TV persona for the young girls, and his “benign bumbling” may have been mistaken for breast fondling.
Margera was found guilty of two counts of sexual assault of a minor, though the jury acquitted him of the most severe charge. Vincent Margera was sentenced to ten years of probation in Pennsylvania, and was forbidden from portraying Don Vito in any way during the probation. Beyond not appearing in any more projects with the CKY Crew or anyone else from Jackass, Vito was also registered as a sex offender in Colorado and Pennsylvania, and sentenced to a psychological evaluation.
Don Vito Now in 2018 – Vincent Margera’s Death
After his conviction, Vincent Margera’s presence was scrubbed from a lot of the projects he worked on. Bam Margera, on his Radio Bam show on Sirius Radio, spoke repeatedly about how the conviction and subsequent end of his acting career worsened Vincent’s depression. The depression aggravated Margera’s alcoholism and obesity. This led to him collapsing in his home and being hospitalized in October, 2015.
After his hospitalization in the early part of October, Margera fell into a five-day-long coma. His condition briefly improved, but years of obesity and alcoholism began to cause cascading organ failure. Vincent Margera passed away on November 15, 2015, from kidney and liver failure. He was 59.