NEW YORK — Ray Liotta, the actor best known for his role in the mob classic “Goodfellas,” has died.
The 67-year-old New Jersey native died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic, where he had been working on a new movie.
As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported Thursday, the Union High School graduate didn’t exactly plan on breaking big into Hollywood.
He was the swaggering star of one of the greatest mob movies of all time. Ray Liotta played Henry Hill in the 1990s classic “Goodfellas,” with some of the most iconic movie scenes of the big screen.
A year earlier, Liotta had made a big impression as literally a baseball ghost, playing Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams.”
He got his start on the soaps, appearing in “Another World,” and really not being interested in acting.
“Did you think then you’d be doing this now?” CBS2’s Mary Calvi asked Liotta in 2006.
“Never. I had no idea. I played sports all the time. I quit basketball my senior year and was in the high school play, which was a horrible experience. Hated it,” Liotta said.
Liotta told Calvi one moment everything changed for him.
“This cute girl said ‘Are you going to try out for the play tonight,’ and I said no. She said ‘Well, what are you doing this for. It’s all about the play.’ So I auditioned and I got it, and I was a dancing waiter in ‘Cabaret.'” he said.
Liotta was born Dec. 18, 1954 in Newark and grew up in Union. He’s even in the Union High School Hall of Fame.
In the early ’90s, it appeared Liotta would be heading for superstardom, but Hollywood was planning a plot twist.
“He was riding high after ‘Goodfellas’ and just nosedived,” said New York Post entertainment critic Johnny Oleksinski.
Oleksinski said Liotta didn’t want to make more mob movies.
“He made terrible choices. Look at Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco, their careers went up and up and up. Liotta never worked with Martin Scorsese again, and they all did,” Oleksinski said.
Recently, Liotta starred in “The Many Saints of Newark,” a prequel movie to “The Sopranos.”
Liotta may have looked like a natural as the movie tough guy, but was far from it in real life.
“I’ve only been in one fight my whole life, and that was in the seventh grade. It’s funny, my friends, they see me playing these bad guys, as people keep saying, and they laugh. Because that’s just not who I am ,” Liotta told Calvi.
And the kid from Newark who scaled the heights of Hollywood now leaves behind his touch of movie magic.
“I am utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be just about anywhere in the world and people will come up and tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. And then they always ask what was the best part of making that movie. And my response always been the same… Ray Liotta,” actor Lorraine Bracco, his co-star in “Goodfellas,” wrote on Instagram.
“Ray Liotta was an absolute legend in film and TV – a Primetime Emmy Award Winner and a native of Newark, NJ. His onscreen work touched the lives of so many. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and many fans,” NJ gov. Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter.
“I was very saddened to learn of Ray’s passing. He is way too way young to have left us. May he rest in peace,” De Niro said.
“Ray was my partner in crime on Shades of Blue… the first thing that comes to mind is he [was so] kind to my children. Ray was the epitome of a tough guy who was all mushy on the inside… I guess that’s what made him such a compelling actor to watch,” Jennifer Lopez wrote on Twitter.
“Not Ray,” actor James Caan tweeted.
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