SUN CITY CENTER – Louis Anthony Agnello Jr. is the first to admit he’s no angel. His checkered resume includes a stint as a high-profile male stripper and owner of an adult entertainment business. He’s been shot, sued and busted on charges ranging from promoting prostitution to possession of drugs.
But the 54-year-old Sun City Center resident now wants to put his notorious past behind him and redeem himself as a published author with a life-changing message to share.
Agnello, who prefers the moniker “Cousin Vinny,” is about to set out on a national tour to promote “The Devil’s Glove,” published by the independent Christian publishing house, Tate Publishing. Locally, the tour will kick off with a book signing April 26 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Booksellers at the Westfield Brandon mall.
Agnello said no one’s more surprised by his newfound writing career than he.
The Flushing, N.Y., native said he once dreamed of becoming a professional football player. But the dream went awry when he took a job as a male stripper in 1980 to help pay his way through college.
“I was working as a pizza delivery boy when I read an ad in the New Haven Advocate in Danbury, Conn., where I was going to school. It said they were seeking male strippers,” Agnello said. “I thought, ‘I can do that,’ and I went on an audition. The crowd really liked me so they immediately booked me as the featured dancer in a New York revue.”
Soon after, photos of a scantily clad Agnello appeared on billboards and he was stripping at parties with 500 women.
“It put a lot of money in my pocket, more than beer money,” he said. “I was a 20-year-old sex object. But the notoriety screwed up my chances to play football for a Division 3 school.”
Agnello basked in the limelight, however, and decided to enroll in The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York City in the hopes of launching an acting career.
He landed bit parts on soap operas “Ryan’s Hope,” “Guiding Light” and “One Life to Live,” but continued to earn the bulk of his money stripping at parties.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to be an actor; I wanted to be a star,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in learning the craft. I just wanted to pull publicity stunts and get a lot of press.”
He succeeded in that goal in 1986 when he added Mr. Mike, the Stripping Monkey, to his act, earning him an appearance on “The Regis and Kathie Lee Show.” But Mr. Mike’s career as a stripper was short-lived. Agnello and the monkey were mugged one night on a New York City street. The robber held a knife to the monkey’s neck and threatened to cut his head off if Agnello didn’t hand over his wallet. Agnello relinquished the wallet but decided the monkey was attracting too much attention.
“I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere with acting so I decided to go back to school,” he said.
He earned a degree in English in 1992 but the diploma had no impact on his lifestyle choices.
“I made more mistakes than anybody, listened to the wrong people,” he said.
After a 13-year career as a stripper, Agnello decided to try his hand at managing other strippers. This venture landed him in more hot water in 2001 when he dispatched a stripper to a football team party in toney Chappaqua, N.Y. The incident made national headlines and garnered the attention of Westchester County’s district attorney who charged Agnello with five felonies.
Agnello got off with a misdemeanor conviction and $1,000 fine. Then, basking in his newfound reputation as “the Stripper King of New York,” he renamed his business World Famous Cousin Vinny’s Gorgeous Strippers (Vinny Roberts was his stage name).
But legal problems continued to plague Agnello.
In 2007, Agnello opened a Subway sandwich shop franchise in the Bronx and became embroiled in a lawsuit with the parent company, which terminated Agnello’s franchise agreement and took him to court for operating an after-hours strip club at the sandwich shop.
Agnello said the charges against him were trumped up by a vindictive district manager. But the damage was done. In addition to losing his $250,000 investment in the franchise, a judge ordered him to pay Subway $90,000.
“I was ruined,” he said. “All my money was gone. I was on public relief. It was terrible. I had nothing.”
He said his wake-up call came on Aug. 22, 2009.
He was escorting some strippers to a bachelor party when two masked men approached him.
“They shot me twice, like a dog on the street,” he said. “I got one .32-caliber bullet in my thigh and another bullet was blocked by some credit cards I was carrying.”
Fearful for his life, Agnello made his way to Sun City Center in 2009, far from strippers, shooters and monkey muggers.
“I was a broken man when I got here. There was nothing left in the tank. I was in terrible straits and I looked like hell,” he said.
In his new, more peaceful environment, Agnello recalled a dream he’d had years ago.
“In my dream, a stranger said he had a message for me. He said I had a job to do,” he said. “Then he told me this beautiful story. It was like a movie in front of my eyes.”
He said he wrote down the story, intending to share it with the world. But life got in the way.
“I feel really bad about it,” he said. “I was given this chance to save lives and touch people’s hearts, but I ignored it.”
Agnello recovered the notes he’d stored on a floppy disc and turned them into the book, “The Magic Glove,” which he self-published in 2011.
“It was like I’d had a spiritual awakening,” he said. “Obviously God wanted good things for me or He wouldn’t have sent me this beautiful story. It was raw. I didn’t know anything about writing in Chicago style. But everyone who read it said they loved it.”
Shortly after he self-published the novel, he received a call from Tate Publishing offering to publish the book under the name “The Devil’s Glove.”
“It’s been amazing,” Agnello said. “I’ve had more love from more people since writing this book. It’s changed my life and I hope it will change the lives of others who, like me, were empty, always on the wrong path.”
The main character in the novel is an old baseball glove. Its first owner is a frustrated minor league baseball player who asks for Satan’s help getting into the major league. When the debt is paid, “the devil’s glove” begins seeking new souls to damn while God battles to save them.
“The moral of the story is it’s never too late to change the road you’re on,” Agnello said. “My characters are addicted to being great. They think if they’re not great, no one will love them. All around us are people who are on ledges, getting ready to jump because they can’t get to the top of the ladder. I was teetering with the idea myself. But writing this story helped me realize that you can’t give up.”
Agnello, who is now working on a sequel, said he’s been pleased with the response he’s received from readers.
“I feel like I’ve really touched people. They say they look at life differently after reading the book,” he said. “I hope I’ve helped change lives.”
Readers can purchase signed copies of the book during the book signing at Barnes & Noble in Brandon. “The Devil’s Glove” also is available through Amazon.com for $21.95. Agnello can be contacted through his Facebook page.