Ray Liotta, the New Jersey actor best known for his role as gangster Henry Hill in “Goodfellas,” has died at 67. His publicist, Jennifer Allen, confirmed the death Thursday, saying the actor died while in the Dominican Republic, where he was filming a movie. Other details were not immediately known.
Liotta was born in Newark, where he was abandoned at an orphanage and adopted when he was six months old, something he often spoke about in interviews. “I used to wear being adopted on my sleeve. ‘How could you give up a kid?’ That sort of thing,” he told Larry King. But when he finally tracked down his birth mother, he said, “I realized when I met her she did it for really valid reasons, and that almost 99 percent of kids who are put for adoption are always for the betterment of the kid.”
He studied acting at the University of Miami and nabbed his first recurring role in 1978 as Joey Perrini in the soap opera “Another World.” He spent most of the early ’80s appearing on television, including playing a younger Sacha in the TV series prequel to “Casablanca.”
Liotta appeared in more than 70 films, beginning with 1980′s TV movie “Hardhat and Legs.” He gained traction in 1986 when he appeared as a volatile ex-con trying to win back his estranged wife in “Something Wild” alongside Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels — a role for which he earned his first Golden Globe nomination. Three years later, he broke out as Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams,” the Kevin Costner-starring ode to baseball.
Liotta rose to stardom with an unforgettable lead performance in 1990, when he played gangster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s enduring mobster epic “Goodfellas,” widely considered to be one of the best movies in history.
Throughout the rest of his career, Liotta would often take roles that riffed on his tough guy persona, such as voicing the leader of a gang called the Bubble Poppin’ Boys in a 2008 episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants” and appearing as prisoner named Big Papa in “Muppets Most Wanted.”
Liotta switched deftly between comedy and drama, playing Seth Rogen’s nemesis in “Observe and Report” and tackling ambitious roles in auteur-driven films, including Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly.” He voiced a character named Tommy Vercetti in the video game “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” and appeared as a cartoon version of himself in “Bee Movie.”
Critics, fans and colleagues flooded social media with an outpouring of affection, remembrances and condolences after his death was announced.
“RIP Ray Liotta. One of the all-time 'the friendlier I seem the scarier I am’ actors. His performance in GOODFELLAS is an all-timer. The cocaine sequence is just incredible acting, hilarious and harrowing in equal [doses],” tweeted music critic Steven Hyden. “Now I really wish he had been in THE IRISHMAN.”
Sean Fennessey, host of the movie podcast “The Big Picture,” tweeted that Liotta “could make movies feel chaotic in the best way.” RogerEbert.com editor Brian Tallerico tweeted: “I’ll never forget seeing Ray Liotta in Something Wild for the first time. There was such an energy and a presence that just sparked off the screen. He was always an underrated actor. Sad loss today.”
Lorraine Bracco, who played Hill’s wife, Karen, in “Goodfellas,” wrote 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.— Lorraine Bracco (@Lorraine_Bracco) May 26, 2022
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
Actor Jeffrey Wright tweeted that he just met Liotta “for the first time last year. GREAT actor. Nice to have had a chance to say that to him. RIP.”
Jamie Lee Curtis said “his work as an actor showed his complexity as a human being" and tweeted that he was “a gentle man.” Rogen, his former co-star, tweeted: “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.”
Comedy writer and actor Matt Oswalt fittingly referenced the end of “Goodfellas,” tweeting, “RIP Ray Liotta. Hope they don’t serve you egg noodles and ketchup in heaven.”