Ray Liotta, the gruff blue-eyed actor who starred in movies like Goodfellas and Field of Dreams, has died at the age of 67.
The Hollywood Reporter confirmed his death directly with his representative, Jennifer Craig, who said the actor was in the midst of shooting a movie and “died in his sleep,” in the Dominican Republic.
Deadline reported that the movie he was working on is the upcoming film Dangerous Waters.
Liotta leaves behind a daughter, Karsen, and a fiancée Jacy Nittolo.
Liotta’s last post on Instagram was to promote an upcoming horror film called Cocaine Bear directed and produced by Elizabeth Banks. It will be one of the last films starring the long-time actor, whose career spans 44 years.
Liotta’s post has since been flooded with “Rest in peace” messages from fans.
The Newark, New Jersey, native was born in 1954 and adopted at age six months out of an orphanage by a township clerk and an auto parts owner. Liotta always assumed he was mostly Italian — the movies did too. But later in life while searching for his birth parents, he discovered he’s actually Scottish.
Though he grew up focused on playing sports, including baseball, during his senior year of high school, the drama teacher asked him if he wanted to be in a play, which he agreed to on a lark. Whether he knew it or not at the time, it planted a seed, though he still assumed he’d end up working construction. And later, at the University of Miami he picked drama and acting because they had no math requirement attached.
He would often say in interviews that he only started auditioning for plays because a pretty girl told him to. But it set him on a course. After graduation, he got an agent and soon he got his first big break on the soap opera Another World.
It would take a few years for him to land his first big movie role, in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild as Melanie Griffith’s character’s hotheaded ex-convict husband Ray. He was 30 years old at the time and hadn’t had a steady job in five years. In an interview in 1993, he told The Associated Press that he wanted to get the part on his own merits even though he knew Griffith. When that didn’t work, he “phoned Melanie.”
“I hated doing it, because that’s politics for me; calling someone to help you out. But I kind of realize that’s part of what it’s all about,” he said.
The turn earned him a Golden Globe nomination. A few years later, he would get the memorable role of the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams. Though it moved many to tears, it wasn’t without its critics. Liotta later recalled hearing a baseball announcer during a Mets game complain that he batted the opposite way Joe Jackson did.
His most iconic role, as real life mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas came shortly after. He, and Scorsese, had to fight for it though, with multiple auditions and pleas to the studio to cast the still relative unknown.
“The thing about that movie, you know, Henry Hill isn’t that edgy of a character,” Liotta said in an interview in 2012. “It’s really the other guys who are doing all the actual killings. The one physical thing he does do, when he goes after the guy who went after Karen — you know, most audiences, they actually like him for that.”
In the same interview, he marvelled at how Goodfellas had a “life of its own” and has only grown over time.
“People watch it over and over, and still respond to it, and different ages come up, even today, teenagers come up to me and they really emotionally connect to it,” he said.
It didn’t matter the size of the role, Liotta always managed to stand out and steal scenes, whether as Johnny Depp’s father in Blow or Adam Driver’s bullish divorce lawyer in Marriage Story.
Lorraine Bracco, who played Karen Hill in Goodfellas tweeted her condolences, saying that the news “shattered” her.
Alessandro Nivola, who recently appeared with Liotta in The Sopranos prequel film The Many Saints of Newark, also expressed how lucky he felt to be able to work with the star.
Several other celebrities and co-stars also shared their condolences on social media.
— With files from Global News’ Chris Jancelewicz & Kathryn Mannie