Ray Liotta, best known for his iconic role as mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and for roles in films including Field of Dreams, Something Wild and last year’s Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark, has died. He was 67.
Liotta died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic, according to his reps. He was there shooting Dangerous Waters.
The actor was engaged to Jacy Nittolo, and also leaves behind his daughter, Karsen.
Though he enjoyed a recent career resurgence, he will always be best remembered for his role as Hill in Goodfellas, in which he delivered one of the most iconic lines in movie history to begin the film’s voiceover narration:
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
Those words, as he slams the trunk closed on a mobster his pals have just shot and stabbed to death, kicks off a giddy, glamorous, and finally horrifying and coke-addled journey through the life of a gangster. We love Henry when he defends his girlfriend, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), tips generously, and breaks his buddies’ balls during Italian feasts behind bars; we hate him as he cheats constantly, enlists his kids’ babysitter to traffic drugs and berates poor Karen for flushing their cocaine down the toilet.
But we stay on Liotta’s side the same way through, because of his cool, detached voiceover, which plays it right down the line, never seeking our approval or pity, and his placid, thoughtful gaze, which suggests a decency in spite of his hellish behavior.
He hinted at this capacity for lovability, beneath a tough exterior, in 1989’s Field of Dreams, where he plays a kind of reanimated version of tragic ballplayer Shoeless Joe Jackson, who seems unaware of his troubled past as he knocks balls around Kevin Costner’s cornfield.
His recent career resurgence included 2019’s Marriage Story, in which he played Jay Marotta, a hardened divorce lawyer who dukes it out with Laura Dern’s Nora Fanshaw in the split between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson’s characters.
The Many Saints of Newark showcased his profound capacity to embody both terrifying and deeply empathetic men. He played both “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti, a brutal, despicable wife-beater, and his incarcerated brother, Sal “Sally” Moltisanti, a Buddhist and connoisseur of jazz albums.
He had recently finished filming Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear, which is due out in February 2023, and was also slated to star in The Substance opposite Demi Moore and Margaret Qualley.
Liotta also recently played Gordon Evans in the Amazon Prime Video series Hanna, about a girl who is raised in the forest to evade a CIA agent, and plays Big Jim Keene opposite Taron Egerton in Apple TV+’s Black Bird, which is set to premiere on July 8. Liotta’s other television forays include the NBC series starring Jennifer Lopez called Shades of Blue, the TV miniseries Texas Rising, and he voiced the narrator in the docuseries The Making of the Mob.
Liotta won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2005 for his role as Charlie Metcalf on an episode of ER called Time of Death. In 2020, he shared the Indie Spirit Awards’ Robert Altman Award with the Marriage Story ensemble.
Main Image: Ray Liotta via Shutterstock