In 2007, our own pop sensation Johnny Lindy got his star on the Hollywood walk of fame. Now just four years later, he is the recipient of yet another prestigious honor. Of the nine prominent figures selected for induction into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, was Cranston native and media mogul Vincent “Vin” Di Bona.
Di Bona, who many Rhode Islanders knew by his stage name, “Johnny Lindy,” is no longer a Nashville star, but he is a Hollywood heavyweight. Currently, he is the chief executive officer of Vin Di Bona Productions and chairman of his new enterprise, FishBowl Worldwide Media. Di Bona is a four-time Emmy award-winning producer and eight-time Emmy nominee. He is the recipient of the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for his work in documentary programming.
In and outside of Little Rhody, Di Bona is recognized as a pioneer in comedic reality television. As the creator of “America's Funniest Home Videos” (AFV), he has the distinction of producing television's longest-running primetime entertainment show on ABC. AFV, hosted by DiBona's long-time friend Tom Bergeron, starts its 22nd year this fall and is seen in 33 countries. The Smithsonian Institution also selected artifacts from the show for its permanent entertainment collections.
“I call AFV ‘The Annuity,’ the gift that keeps on giving,” said Bergeron. “Vin's skillful stewardship of that pratfall buffet has helped put my kids through college. Beyond that, he’s a class act and loyal friend. He’s a wonderful example of someone who not only remembers his roots, but continues, with his philanthropic work, to till the soil. He gives back. It’s great to see him acknowledged for being the kind of guy he is.”
Di Bona continues to express his gratitude to the people who shaped his life.
“I had a really great childhood,” said Di Bona of his days growing up in Cranston. “My dad had a very famous restaurant in Cranston called Lindy’s and, from when I was about 13 years on, I worked at the restaurant, sometimes sweeping floors, polishing floors, parking cars and waiting on tables.”
After high school, Di Bona left for Boston and graduated from Emerson College in 1966. Di Bona is now vice-chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees. While at Emerson, Di Bona became friends with Henry Winkler, best known for his role as “Fonzie” on the sitcom hit, “Happy Days.” Together, they helped launch the popular “MacGyver” adventure series, for which Di Bona was the supervising producer and second unit director.
“As talented and as organized as Vin Di Bona is today, so he was at our college fraternity meetings,” says Winkler. “He has always been the voice of reason,” and, added Winkler, “he’s also a very sharp dresser and a wonderful friend.”
After Emerson, Di Bona earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from UCLA's film school. After getting married, Di Bona returned to Boston to work at WBZ-TV. During his nine years with WBZ, Di Bona produced and directed major documentary specials, breakthrough public affairs programs, and the first commercially sponsored African-American magazine show in the nation.
After WBZ, Di Bona produced “Entertainment Tonight” (ET) in 1981, which is also still on air. Di Bona has also put his stamp on other projects that did not quite match his success with AFV and ET, including “Animal Crack-Ups,” “Trump Unauthorized,” “For Love of Nancy,” “Voices From Within,” “Meet the Marks,” “Sherman Oaks,” “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” and “The Big Moment.”
Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame board president Patrick T. Conley says the Hall of Fame was created to honor “any individual who has brought credit to Rhode Island, brought Rhode Island into prominence, and contributed to the history and heritage of the state.”
As the author of such outstanding success, Di Bona certainly fills that bill. Di Bona joined the ranks of 660 illustrious Rhode Islanders, from Roger Williams to the present, in the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame; a facility that will eventually be part of a Heritage Harbor museum.
“As a Rhode Islander, it’s more than an honor, it’s a cherished honor,” said Di Bona. “I so enjoy coming from a state that has so much to offer our country; it's really a thrill.”
Also inducted last Friday were labor leader George H. Nee of Cranston; Television executive and civic leader Bruce R. Lang of Newport; Governor Philip W. Noel; Historian Dr. Maury Klein; artist Barnaby M. Evans; the late Governor Christopher Del Sesto; political operative and U.S. Sentate staffer, the late Edward J. "Rip" Higgins; and the Providence–born marathon runner, the late Robert E. "Bobby" Doyle.