SUN CITY CENTER
A consummate self-promoter, Louis Anthony "Cousin Vinny'' Agnello luxuriated in publicity in 2001 after he dispatched a stripper to the Horace Greeley High School football team party in Chappaqua, N.Y., the wealthy community famous as the home of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The incident made national news and showered profitable notoriety on his business, which he renamed World Famous Cousin Vinny's Gorgeous Strippers.
Long a gleeful sinner, Cousin Vinny now seems to be going for sainthood. The former self-described "Stripper King of New York'' has moved to Sun City Center and self-published a religious novel, or at least a spiritual novel, about the battle between good and evil.
Agnello calls it "the most spiritually uplifting novel of the year,'' and says, "Any big-time publisher with an ounce of good marketing sense should sign me on the spot.''
The 52-year-old former male stripper and soap opera actor says he decided to change venues and lifestyle after being shot in the leg in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., in 2009, in what police called a botched robbery attempt.
It made him rethink his ways.
"I realized that this little adventure we're on here called life, that there was a time limit, that I was really going to die, too, just like everybody else.''
He says he was granted an age waiver to move to 55-and-over Sun City Center, where he rents a small house from his mother, who lives elsewhere in the community. He decided to finish the novel he started writing in 1992, which he had put on the shelf to pursue his life of stripping, managing strippers and "adding to a ridiculously long list of female conquests.''
When he's telling a story, Agnello, a burly man with a New York accent, talks in an excited voice that borders, at times, on a raspy shout.
The idea for his book, The Magic Glove, came to him in a dream, he says. "It was inspired, as far as I'm concerned, by a heavenly messenger, or maybe God himself.''
It's the story of a struggle between God and Satan over the soul of a baseball player who found an old baseball glove that magically turned him into a great player.
Agnello has sold about 150 copies locally through word of mouth, he says. He sells signed copies on eBay. The 426-page novel is also available on Amazon.com for $23.95 and can be ordered through Barnes & Noble and other bookstores. He has been promoting it in appearances before civic clubs.
"It was good,'' says Sun City Center businessman Steve Shrago, who bought a copy after hearing Agnello address his Rotary Club. "There were parts where I couldn't put it down, to be honest .''
Agnello's pastor, the Rev. Ron Churchill of Trinity Baptist Church, calls it a "fun read,'' but . . .
"He wanted me to kind of promote it, and I couldn't promote a book that had so many curse words in it.''
Though the book addresses good vs. evil, it doesn't feature Jesus Christ. "From my perspective, I would always want someone pointed toward Christ,'' Churchill says.
Agnello was brought into Trinity Baptist by a former pastor, Bill Millican. Agnello met him and a number of church members while playing in the Sun City Center softball league, and the Rev. Millican "led Vinny to make a commitment to the Lord in his life, and he baptized him in our church,'' Churchill says.
The Rev. Joe Adkins, a retired Church of God minister, also got to know Agnello by playing Sun City Center softball. To hear Adkins tell it, Agnello is quite a show on the ball field; he lets everyone know when he gets a good hit.
"Ol' Vinny, he's a good guy — we have a lot of fun with him,'' says Adkins, who also read the book and liked it.
Born in Flushing, N.Y., Agnello discovered the lucrative male stripping business during his second year of college and decided to pursue it full time. In one of his better known acts, he appeared with Mr. Mike, the Stripping Monkey.
A blue-faced monkey, Mr. Mike would appear before the crowd in a little car, get out and take off his clothes. He wasn't hard to train. Agnello says they would freeze Mr. Mike's clothes and put them on him just before each performance, so he couldn't wait to tear them off.
Agnello and Mr. Mike both made news in 1986 when they were mugged on a New York Street. A thief held a knife to Mr. Mike's neck and threatened to cut his head off if Agnello didn't give him money, according to a United Press International report.
Agnello also dabbled in acting at this time, doing bit parts on soap operas, Guiding Light, Ryan's Hope and One Life to Live, he says. He also finished college, earning a bachelor's degree in English from Western Connecticut State University in 1992.
In recent years, he made news by opening a sub shop in the Bronx, using Subway restaurant napkins, wrappers and bags, and running a strip club in the building at night, the New York Post reported. Called Cousin Vinny's Way, it was part of an ongoing dispute with Subway after Agnello lost his restaurant franchise.
One August night three years ago, he was escorting strippers to a bachelor party in Sleepy Hollow when two masked men approached and fired shots. One bullet hit his upper left thigh, and another was stopped by a wad of credit cards in his pocket. Police said it was a failed attempt to grab $100,000 worth of jewelry Agnello said he was wearing. He had promoted himself as "the King of Bling.''
"It scared the crap out of me. I basically gave up on the strippers at that time. I ran and hid in Atlantic City and Foxwoods (gambling resort). I lost my mind, honestly . . . It screwed up my head.''
He likes the peace of Sun City Center, a town that closes down at 9 p.m. And he's working on a sequel to The Magic Glove and an autobiography. "I've got my dictionaries, my Associated Press style book and libel manual,'' he says, "I've got all my good stuff. I sit with my dictionary, I have my thoughts. There's nobody running in and going, 'Vinny, I need money, can you call somebody and get me a show?' I don't have any of those outside disturbances. So, actually, I got in tune with reality.''
Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Philip Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3435.