Ray Liotta, the actor best known for playing mobster Henry Hill in “Goodfellas” and baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams,” has died. He was 67.
An official at the Dominican Republic’s National Forensic Science Institute confirmed the death of Liotta and said his body was taken to the Cristo Redentor morgue. The Hollywood Reporter and NBC News cited representatives for Liotta who said he died in his sleep Wednesday night. He was in the Dominican Republic to film a new movie.
Lorraine Bracco, who played Karen Hill in “Goodfellas” tweeted on Thursday that she was, “Utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be anywhere in the world & people will come up & tell me their favourite 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.”
Alessandro Nivola, who recently appeared with Liotta in “The Sopranos” prequel film “The Many Saints of Newark” wrote, “I feel so lucky to have squared off against this legend in one of his final roles. The scenes we did together were among the all time highlights of my acting career. He was dangerous, unpredictable, hilarious, and generous with his praise for other actors. Too soon.”
Seth Rogen, who Liotta acted with in the 2009 comedy “Observe and Report” tweeted, “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 favourite scenes I ever got to be in. A true legend of immense skill and grace.”
The Newark, New Jersey, native was born in 1954 and adopted at age six months out of an orphanage by a township clerk and an auto parts owner. Liotta always assumed he was mostly Italian — the movies did too. But later in life while searching for his birth parents, he discovered he’s actually Scottish.
Though he grew up focused on playing sports, including baseball, during his senior year of high school, the drama teacher asked him if he wanted to be in a play, which he agreed to on a lark. Whether he knew it or not at the time, it planted a seed, though he still assumed he'd end up working construction. And later, at the University of Miami he picked drama and acting because they had no math requirement attached. He would often say in interviews that he only started auditioning for plays because a pretty girl told him to. But it set him on a course. After graduation, he got an agent and soon he got his first big break on the soap opera “Another World.”
It would take a few years for him to land his first big movie role, in Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild” as Melanie Griffith’s character’s hotheaded ex-convict husband Ray. He was 30 years old at the time and hadn’t had a steady job in five years. In an interview in 1993, he said he wanted to get the part on his own merits even though he knew Griffith. When that didn’t work, he “phoned Melanie”.
“I hated doing it, because that’s politics for me; calling someone to help you out. But I kind of realise that’s part of what it’s all about,” he said.
The turn earned him a Golden Globe nomination. A few years later, he would get the memorable role of the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams.” Though it moved many to tears, it wasn’t without its critics. Liotta later recalled hearing a baseball announcer during a Mets game complain that he batted the opposite way Joe Jackson did.
“**** you! He didn’t come back from the dead either!” Liotta recalled thinking.
His most iconic role, as real life mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” came shortly after. He, and Scorsese, had to fight for it though, with multiple auditions and pleas to the studio to cast the still relative unknown.
“The thing about that movie, you know, Henry Hill isn’t that edgy of a character,” Liotta said in an interview in 2012. “It’s really the other guys who are doing all the actual killings. The one physical thing he does do, when he goes after the guy who went after Karen — you know, most audiences, they actually like him for that.”
In the same interview, he marvelled at how “Goodfellas” had a “life of its own" and has only grown over time.
“People watch it over and over, and still respond to it, and different ages come up, even today, teenagers come up to me and they really emotionally connect to it,” he said.
It didn’t matter the size of the role, Liotta always managed to stand out and steal scenes, whether as Johnny Depp’s father in “Blow” or Adam Driver’s bullish divorce lawyer in “Marriage Story.”
After a number of prominent movie roles in the 1990s, Liotta receded from the spotlight somewhat throughout the 2000s, though remained prolific.
In the 2010s, he appeared in Muppets Most Wanted and Muppets In Space, and garnered attention and acclaim for his turns in films such as Killing Them Softly, The Place Beyond the Pines and “Marriage Story.”
More to follow…