‘Goodfellas’ Co-Stars, Many Others Pay Tribute to Ray Liotta
Ray Liotta, the blue-eyed 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. Police in the Dominican Republic said they received a call just before 6 a.m. Thursday at a hotel where Liotta was staying with his fiancee and found the actor dead.
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 told The Associated Press that 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 realize 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 remembered hearing a baseball announcer during a Mets game complain that he batted the opposite way Joe Jackson did.
“(Bleep) you! He didn’t come back from the dead either!” Liotta recalled thinking.
Liotta’s 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.
Scorsese said Thursday that Liotta was “so uniquely gifted, so adventurous, so courageous as an actor.”
Here are more reactions to the star’s death.
“I’m absolutely shocked and devastated by the sudden, unexpected death of Ray Liotta. He was so uniquely gifted, so adventurous, so courageous as an actor. Playing Henry Hill in Good Fellas was a tall order, because the character had so many different facets, so many complicated layers, and Ray was in almost every scene of a long, tough shoot. He absolutely amazed me, and I’ll always be proud of the work we did together on that picture.” —Director Martin Scorsese in a statement.
“I am utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray. 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.” — Lorraine Bracco, who played Liotta’s wife in “Goodfellas,” via Twitter.
“I was very saddened to learn of Ray’s passing. He is way too way young to have left us.” — Robert De Niro, in a statement.
“Devastated to hear the news of Ray Liotta’s passing. While he leaves an incredible legacy, he’ll always be ‘Shoeless Joe Jackson’ in my heart. What happened that moment in the film was real. God gave us that stunt. Now God has Ray.” — Kevin Costner on Twitter. He included a clip from the film of Liotta hitting a home run off him.
“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.” — Seth Rogen, who worked with Liotta on 2009’s “Observe and Report,” via Twitter.
“Ray Liotta has died. What a gentle human. His work as an actor showed his complexity as a human. A beautiful artist. We made the lovely film, Dominic and Eugene in 1986. Sad news.” — Jamie Lee Curtis on Instagram.
“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.” — Actor Alessandro Nivola, star of “The Many Saints of Newark,” one of Liotta’s final films.
“This is a massive, unexpected shock. I have been an admirer of Ray’s work since I saw him in ‘Something Wild,’ a movie he wrenched by the tail. I was so glad he worked on ‘The Many Saints of Newark’… Ray was also a very warm and humorous person. A really superior actor. We all felt we lucked out having him on that movie.” — “Many Saints of Newark” director and “Sopranos” creator David Chase, in a statement.
“Ray Liotta. Man. Just met dude for the first time last year. GREAT actor. Nice to have had a chance to say that to him.” —Actor Jeffrey Wright, via Twitter.