Paul Sorvino, an actor who played gangsters and cops on stage and screen and was best known for his roles in projects such as “Goodfellas” and “Law & Order,” died Monday at age 83.
“Our hearts are broken,” Dee Dee Sorvino said in a statement. “There will never be another Paul Sorvino, he was the love of my life, and one of the greatest performers to ever grace the screen and stage.”
Throughout his career, the Brooklyn native was an imposing presence on film and stage. Sorvino started on Broadway, where he received a Tony nomination for his role in “That Championship Season,” before taking the film industry by storm in the 1970s. He starred alongside Al Pacino in “The Panic in Needle Park,” James Caan in “The Gambler,” and worked with Carl Reiner on “Where’s Poppa” and “Oh, God!” Working consistently through the ’80s, Sorvino once again hit stardom with his role as Henry Kissinger in “Nixon” in 1995 and Fulgencio Capulet in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet.”
But his most iconic roles were as mafia man Paulie Cicero in “Goodfellas” and NYPD sergeant Phil Cerreta on two seasons of “Law & Order.” At 6-feet-2 inches tall with a glare that could eviscerate any ego, Sorvino seemed typecast for such outsize roles designed for men who suffered no fools.
For his part, Sorvino didn’t see himself quite that way. During a Tribeca Film Festival panel celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Goodfellas,” Sorvino revealed that he almost didn’t show up to set because he couldn’t crack the role of the violent mob boss.
“I was really lost,” said the actor, who’d asked his agent to find him an out. “Then I was going to fix my tie and I saw this guy,” Sorvino said of his own reflection in the mirror, surprising himself with his own lethal gaze. “And it scared the hell out of me. That’s the guy!”
That guy became his calling card, but Sorvino was clear about the line between who he was and who he played on-screen. He once told the New York Times that he thought of himself “as a warrior-poet.”
“Most people think I’m either a gangster or a cop or something, but the reality is I’m a sculptor, a painter, a best-selling author, many, many things — a poet, an opera singer, but none of them is gangster, but, you know, obviously I sort of have a knack for playing these things,” the actor said in an 2014 interview with Orlando Weekly.
Sorvino, who married Dee Dee in 2014, had three children from his first marriage to Lorraine Davis: Michael Sorvino, Amanda Sorvino and Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino. Paul and Mira shared an especially tender public moment in 1996 when Mira won the best supporting actress Oscar for her performance in “Mighty Aphrodite.” As she accepted the trophy, she dedicated the award to her father: “When you give me this award, you honor my father, Paul Sorvino, who has taught me everything I know about acting, I love you very much, Dad.” He burst into tears.
Mira took to Twitter on Monday after her father’s death was announced.
“My heart is rent asunder- a life of love and joy and wisdom with him is over,” she wrote. “He was the most wonderful father. I love him so much. I’m sending you love in the stars Dad as you ascend.”