Ray Liotta, Goodfellas and Field of Dreams star, dead at 67
Actor was in the Dominican Republic shooting a new movie and didn't wake up Thursday morning
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.
Liotta's publicist, Jen Allen, said he was in the Dominican Republic shooting a new movie and didn't wake up Thursday morning. An official at the Dominican Republic's National Forensic Science Institute who was not authorized to speak to the media confirmed the death and said his body was taken to the Cristo Redentor morgue.
Condolences quickly poured in from Liotta's peers.
In an emailed statement, Liotta's Goodfellas co-star Robert De Niro said, "I was very saddened to learn of Ray's passing. He is way too young to have left us. May he rest in peace."
Lorraine Bracco, who played Karen Hill in Goodfellas, tweeted Thursday that she was "utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be anywhere in the world and people will come up and 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."
Fought for iconic Goodfellas role
The Newark, N.J., native was born in 1954 and adopted at six months of age 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 mostly grew up playing sports, including baseball, during his senior year of high school, the drama teacher at the school asked him if he wanted to be in a play, which he agreed to on a lark. And it stuck: He'd go on to study acting at the University of Miami. After graduation, he got his first big break on the soap opera Another World.
Liotta's first big film role was in Jonathan Demme's Something Wild as Melanie Griffith's character's hotheaded ex-convict husband Ray. 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.
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.
Roger Ebert, in his review, wrote that Goodfellas solidified Liotta (and Bracco) as "two of our best new movie actors."
"He creates the emotional centre for a movie that is not about the experience of being a Mafioso, but about the feeling," Ebert continued.
In a 2012 interview, Liotta said that, "Henry Hill isn't that edgy of a character. 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, or even the genre, Liotta always managed to stand out and steal scenes in both dramas and comedies, whether as Johnny Depp's father in Blow or Adam Driver's bullish divorce lawyer in Marriage Story.
Mafiosos seemed to be his specialty — he even narrated an AMC docuseries called The Making of the Mob — though he was wary of being typecast.
He turned down the part of Ralphie on The Sopranos because of it. But he'd still end up playing a mob type with James Gandolfini in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly. And later, he would pay his own ticket to audition for The Many Saints of Newark.
"I'm really not sure what made me so determined," he told The Guardian last year. "But I was and luckily it all worked out."
Liotta also often played various law enforcement types, from cops and detectives to federal agents, in films as diverse as Unlawful Entry, Cop Land, Narc, The Place Beyond the Pines and Observe and Report. Many were corrupt.
He got to be a victim of Hannibal Lecter in the 2001 film Hannibal and played Frank Sinatra in the TV movie The Rat Pack, which got him a Screen Actors Guild nomination. For gamers, he's immortalized as the voice of Tommy Vercetti in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. He also starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in the series Shades of Blue.
Liotta has one daughter, Karsen, with ex-wife Michelle Grace and was engaged to be married to Jacy Nittolo at the time of his death.
"The business is rough, no matter where you're at in your career," Liotta said in 2012. "There's always some reason for them to say no to you — that part of it is horrible.… But the job itself — making people believe that what they're seeing is really happening — that's still a challenge, putting that puzzle together. You know, what can I say: I still like playing pretend. And it's sure a fun way to make a living."