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‘Goodfellas’ Star Ray Liotta Dead at 67

Actor who specialized in tough-talking, no-nonsense characters also starred in ‘Field of Dreams’ and ‘Something Wild’

Daniel Kreps May 26, 2022

Actor Ray Liotta poses for a portrait in October 1990 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

Ray Liotta, who starred in the Martin Scorsese mob classic Goodfellas in addition to roles in Cop Land and Field of Dreams, has died at the age of 67.

Liotta’s rep confirmed his death to the Hollywood Reporter; a cause of death was not immediately available, but an official at the National Forensic Science Institute in the Dominican Republic — where the actor was reportedly shooting the film Dangerous Waters — also confirmed Liotta’s death to the Associated Press.

Over a career that spanned 40 years, Liotta specialized in portraying tough-talking, no-nonsense characters often embroiled in the criminal underworld, or light-hearted variations of that character in comedies.

After honing his craft on musicals and soap operas, Liotta first made his mark on the big screen in the 1986 dark comedy Something Wild, where he played Melanie Griffith’s psychotic ex-boyfriend. The role resulted in a Golden Globe nod for Best Supporting Actor for Liotta, who was soon cast as the ghost of blacklisted baseball player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in the 1989 fantasy drama Field of Dreams.

Liotta then landed his most memorable role: Portraying real-life “wiseguy” Henry Hill in Goodfellas, a part Liotta landed thanks to his charismatic and “dangerous” performance in Something Wild. “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” Liotta’s Hill says in voiceover at the onset of the film that would chart his character’s rise and fall from street-level hood and mafia bigwig to paranoid cokehead and FBI stool pigeon. The Best Picture-nominated film resurrected the mob genre and became a classic in its own right, landing at Number One on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Best Movies of the Nineties and earning a spot in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

“I am utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray,” actress Lorraine Bracco, who played Henry Hill’s wife in Goodfellastweeted Thursday. “I can be anywhere in the world & people will come up & tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. Then they always ask what was the best part of making that movie. My response has always been the same…Ray Liotta.”

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In the ensuing decades, Liotta settled into the role of an all-star character actor, appearing in NarcJohn QBlowSmokin’ AcesObserve and ReportSin City: A Dame to Kill For and Kill the Messenger and lengthy stints on the TV series Shades of Blue and Hanna. Liotta also notably voiced the main gangster character Tommy Vercetti in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Liotta’s Observe and Report co-star Seth Rogen tweeted, “I can’t believe Ray Liotta has passed away. He was such a lovely, talented and hilarious person. Working with him was one of the great joys of my career and we made some of my favorite scenes I ever got to be in. A true legend of immense skill and grace.”

Director James Mangold, who cast Liotta in his films Cop Land and Identitytweeted, “Shocked and saddened to hear of Ray Liotta’s passing. Beyond the tough guy exterior and the tightly wound emotions of his signature characters, he was a sweet, playful and passionate collaborator and brilliant actor.”

In recent years, Liotta became an elder-statesmen of crime movies, appearing in No Sudden Move and The Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark; the titular New Jersey city was also Liotta’s birthplace, though he was abandoned soon after his birth and raised in Union, New Jersey. An athlete in his youth, he studied acting at the University of Miami before moving to New York to work on Broadway and the soap opera Another Worl. After relocating to Los Angeles, he landed the Something Wild role in part thanks to his friend Steven Bauer, who was married to the film’s star Griffith.

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Liotta said of his on-screen persona in a 2016 interview, “That’s not who I am — I mean, me personally, I’ve never been in a fight in my life, and yet here, now, I’m getting stuck with this tough guy stuff.”

The actor also received acclaimed for his turn as a confrontation divorce lawyer in 2019’s Marriage Story, a role that Liotta credited as a career resurgence of sorts. (“I’m busier than I’ve ever been,” Liotta told Rolling Stone in 2021, noting an upcoming role in Apple’s Black Bear series.)

Liotta previously turned down a significant role in The Sopranos — in the role of Ralphie Cifaretto, played by Joe Pantoliano — to avoid latching himself to another iconic mob franchise. Nearly 20 years later, however, he played the twins “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti  and “Sally” Moltisanti in The Many Saints of Newark. Alessandro Nivola, who starred alongside Liotta in the film, tweeted Thursday:

As Liotta told Rolling Stone, despite being proud of his work in dramas and comedies, he struggled with typecasting throughout his career. “That’s what fucked things up for me,” Liotta said. “Some of the movies didn’t work, and then I said, ‘Well, I’m not gonna do two bad guys in a row.’ You have this idealistic view of how you want it to happen, and when it’s not [going that way], then you have to adjust. I did movies with the Muppets — Danny Trejo and I were singing and dancing with Tina Fey in one of the Muppet movies, and I had to fall in love with Miss Piggy. I’ve done these other things: Dominick and EugeneCorrina, Corrina. If you were to look at other actors who play edgy characters, that’s what you remember from them.”

From Rolling Stone US.

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