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.
A cause of death was not immediately available, but a rep for the actor confirmed to Rolling Stone that Liotta died in his sleep while on location in the Dominican Republic, where he was reportedly shooting the film Dangerous Waters.
Over a career that spanned 40 years, Liotta specialized in portraying tough-talking, no-nonsense characters often embroiled in the criminal underworld, or lighthearted 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 “wise guy” 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.
“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,” Liotta’s Field of Dreams co-star Kevin Costner wrote on social media. “What happened that moment in the film was real. God gave us that stunt. Now God has Ray.
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. pic.twitter.com/JQmk1PsuSK
— Kevin Costner & MW (@modernwest) May 26, 2022
“I’m absolutely shocked and devastated by the sudden, unexpected death of Ray Liotta,” Goodfellas director Martin Scorsese said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “He was so uniquely gifted, so adventurous, so courageous as an actor. Playing Henry Hill in Goodfellas 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. My heart goes out to his loved ones, and it aches for his loss, way too early.”
“I was very saddened to learn of Ray’s passing,” Liotta’s Goodfellas co-star Robert De Niro said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “He is way too way young to have left us.”
“I am utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray,” actress Lorraine Bracco, who played Hill’s wife in Goodfellas, tweeted 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.”
Liotta settled into the role of an all-star character actor in subsequent decades, appearing in Narc, John Q, Blow, Smokin’ Aces, Observe and Report, Sin 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.
“I can’t believe Ray Liotta has passed away,” Liotta’s Observe and Report co-star Seth Rogen 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 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 Identity, tweeted, “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.”
And Narc director Joe Carnahan also fondly remembered his friend, telling Rolling Stone, “I’m still processing the news. I still can’t get over the fact that he’s gone.”
“[Liotta] gave me my career. I could not have gotten Narc made without him,” Carnahan continued. “I’m still in shock. He was one of those guys who you thought he was going to live to be a thousand. He was a rock. He was a mentor. He was like a big brother. He was always gracious, and endlessly helpful to me, as well as to strangers. He would always joke with people because he had this intimidating presence to him — but he was not that guy at all. And he had a tremendous sense of humor — that great laugh. He always gave you the time of day. He’d spend hours just asking you questions about yourself, and he always turned the attention away from himself. He always cared more about what you were doing than what he was doing … And something important about Ray: Ray never felt like anything was owed to him. There was no entitlement at all. He didn’t flinch … And he was quietly brilliant when he wanted to be.”
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 World. 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.
Liotta said of his onscreen 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 confrontational 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 Bird series. On Thursday, his co-star on that series, Taron Egerton, paid tribute to the actor:
Liotta previously turned down a significant role in The Sopranos — 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:
RIP Ray Liotta. 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 pic.twitter.com/FvsV2NNHkw
— Alessandro Nivola (@SandroNivola) May 26, 2022
The Sopranos and The Many Saints of Newark creator David Chase said in a statement to Rolling Stone, “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. I believed strongly in my heart that he could play that double role. He created two distinctly separate characters and each performance was phenomenal. Ray was also a very warm and humorous person. A really superior actor. We all felt we lucked out having him on that movie.”
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 Eugene; Corrina, Corrina. If you were to look at other actors who play edgy characters, that’s what you remember from them.”
Liotta added, “Field of Dreams, I didn’t hit Kevin [Costner] in the head with the bat. But these bad guys, they stand out to people.”