"I remember it hit my wife and me like a ton of bricks, because, first of all, it was just a word we had heard about," Joe Mantegna said.
Joe Mantegna, 74, has been a successful actor with his hard work and perseverance. But the credit for a successful family life he gives his wife and daughters. Mantegna and his high school sweetheart, Arlene, have been married for the last 47 years. They first met at district-wide school musicals but were not romantically involved. "I went to Morton East High School and junior college in Cicero, Illinois, and she went to Morton West High School in Berwyn, Illinois. We would do district-wide musicals. I was the lead actor in two of those plays, and she had featured roles in both. So we knew each other, but not romantically at all, and then we went our separate ways," he said.
It didn't take time for their friendship to turn into a relationship. “We just had a lot of fun, but we didn’t get married for the longest time because we were hippies,” says Arlene, a full-time mother, to PEOPLE. In 1975, they decided to take their relationship to the next level. They got married in a private ceremony at the most perfect place in the world, the Eiffel Tower, Paris before moving to Los Angeles in 1978. The star bagged a role in Glengarry Glen Ross in New York and started to make a name for himself. His wife, Arlene stood by him, through the ups and downs.
By 1987, they had their first child, Mia, whose birth was not easy. She was born prematurely three months early due to an infection in the umbilical cord. There were reportedly moments when the child would stop breathing completely. Mantegna even changed the white light bulb on his front porch to a red one to make it easier for ambulances to find them. At age two, Mia had been diagnosed with autism. "You go through a million emotions," Mantegna said. "Your heart flies out of your chest."
At a time when autism was hardly spoken about, this news scared the couple. "I remember it hit my wife and me like a ton of bricks, because, first of all, it was just a word we had heard about," he said, according to Brain World Magazine. But they refused to give in and gave as much love as they could to their daughter Mia. In 1990, they had their second child, Gia who also loved her elder sister. "She’s wise beyond her years and really understands Mia," Mantegna said.
Despite the tough times, the family came out of it stronger and happier. "I think in some ways you're strengthened by these kinds of challenges in life. If you can't totally overcome them, just make the best of the situation," the actor told Ability Magazine.
Knowing that he couldn't have done it all without his wife's support, he helped her to fulfill her dream of starting a restaurant. They opened Taste Chicago together in 2003. In a Facebook post, Mantegna wrote, "I salute my wife Arlene as over 15 years ago she had a dream to open a place that would provide great Chicago-themed food, a friendly atmosphere, and a lifetime of memories for both patrons and staff. She accomplished it all and I couldn’t be prouder of that accomplishment. In a world where many walk in the shadows she has always been the light." After Taste Chicago closed in 2019, the couple started focusing on charity work, as always, with each other at their side.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | (L) Giulio Marcocchi; (R) Alberto E. Rodriguez