Another star has fallen from the Hollywood sky, with the passing of Ray Liotta. The famed Hollywood actor died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday, May 26. Notorious for a steely blue gaze capable of piercing the screen, the gravelly-voiced actor shot to prominence in an unforgettable performance as Henry Hill in Martin Scorcese’s critically acclaimed “Goodfellas”. Variety reports, that the star “died in his sleep while in the Dominican Republic filming an upcoming film, Dangerous Waters”. He was 67 years old.
Ruggedly handsome, Liotta was blessed with a naturally athletic build and a head of hair to rival Elvis. His piercing blue eyes, bordered by thick lashes, added an unexpected dash of feminine beauty. But these features were juxtaposed by a devilishly impish grin, acne scars and deep lines around his mouth. His braying laugh could signal boyish glee or impending murder. Although he cut a striking image, Liotta could never be labelled a pretty boy.
Born in 1954, the New Jersey native didn’t come from money. He wasn’t a Hollywood legacy or a trust-fund kid, but rose from humble beginnings. Abandoned at birth at a Newark orphanage, he was adopted six months later by a township clerk and an auto parts owner. Though he mostly grew up playing sports, during his senior year of high school, the drama teacher at the school offered him a role in a play, which he agreed to try out. A growing attraction to the profession stemmed from there. He went on to study acting at the University of Miami. After graduation, he got his first big break on the soap opera “Another World” as Joey Perrini in 36 episodes of the beloved soap.
Liotta’s first big film role was in Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild” as Melanie Griffith’s character’s hotheaded ex-convict husband Ray. Griffith, already a friend of his, leaned on the film’s director, Jonathan Demme, to consider him, and he got the role of her character’s menacing husband, an ex-con. The role earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
Although he received countless film offers for similar characters following on from the success of “Something Wild”, he resisted being “pigeonholed as Hollywood’s resident psychopath,” as reported by The New York Times. His next film after “Something Wild” was “Dominick and Eugene” (1988). In it, he plays a man who would do anything for his twin brother (played by Tom Hulce) who is mentally impaired as a result of a childhood accident. The part portrayed the young actor as tender and nuanced, opening up a range of new casting offers.
Living for the Moment
The next year, Ray won acclaim as the baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson, a ghost who appears on the ball field built by Kevin Costner’s character in “Field of Dreams.” He embodied a quiet intensity in the role.
“I live for the moment where you disappear and suddenly you’re not you anymore — you’re somebody else,”
he says in an interview with Vulture. “That feeling you get when everything clicks. That rush.”
Ray Liotta’s most iconic role, came shortly after in his portrayal of the real-life mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”. He and Scorsese had to convince the production to cast him. There were multiple auditions and pleas to the studio to choose a still relatively unknown actor. “In this film, I had to show jealousy, rage, happiness, anger — everything was there,” he tells The Associated Press in 1990. “You want to take that challenge as an actor. It was pretty intense”.
Liotta plays the central character of the mob classic, guiding the viewer through the underbelly of the criminal world. He injects a note of vulnerability, made all the more effective for coming out of the mouth of a ruthless killer. The film was nominated six times for the Oscars and won best actor in a supporting role in 1991.
Lorraine Bracco, who plays Karen Hill, Liotta’s onscreen wife in “Goodfellas”, tweets 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 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.”
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. pic.twitter.com/3gNjJFTAne
— Lorraine Bracco (@Lorraine_Bracco) May 26, 2022
A Master of All
Liotta was an acting chameleon. He acted for forty years right up until his death in a wide range of roles, but no matter what he chose, he was completely dedicated to the part.
He drew the viewer in, hypnotising them, and allowing them to identify and sympathise with his character, whether playing a mobster (too many other films to count), a dirty cop (2002’s “Narc”, 1997’s “Copland”), a ruthless ex con (“Something Wild” et al.), a widowed father delving through the complexities of an interracial romance in the 1950’s (1994’s “Corrina, Corrina”), or a divorce lawyer willing to get his hands dirty to help his client (2019’s Marriage Story).
He refused to be typecast, and he was willing to give every genre a chance.
The Joy of Acting
Liotta even worked on projects as light-hearted as “The Muppets Most Wanted”. However, he is more famously known for the films that involve an intensity of character, such as “Hannibal”. For him, it was not about the role, but the challenge and joy of acting.
Ray Liotta’s fiancee Jacy Nittolo reflected on her relationship with movie star, in a heart-wrenching tribute, “My life these past couple of years has been nothing but truly magical.” She began in an instagram post. Ray and I share a deep love that I will cherish in my heart forever. We laughed daily and we were inseparable. The chemistry was wild in the best way.”
“He was everything in the world to me and we couldn’t get enough of each other.
The kind of real love that one dreams of. He was the most beautiful person inside and out that I’ve ever known…and even that is an understatement.”
R.I.P Ray Liotta.
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