Ray Liotta, the gangster everyone loved

Ray Liotta has passed away at the age of 67. Too young. We remember and celebrate his incredible career and versatility. 

Ray Liotta

Yesterday, Ray Liotta passed away at the age of 67. Too young. We remember and celebrate his incredible career and versatility. 

If you think of a gangster, what do they look like? Chances are, a lot like Ray Liotta. Liotta’s face and posture have become synonymous with being a gangster. Sure, there’s also Al Pacino, Robert De Niro or maybe even Michael Caine, but Liotta just had that something. Maybe it was his infectious grin, boyish charm or smouldering intensity, but Liotta was always the most memorable actor in any film he appeared in. 

Born on December 18, 1954 in New Jersey, Liotta was abandoned at an orphanage. He was adopted by Mary and Alfred Liotta. Liotta studied acting at the University of Miami and graduated in 1978. He made his debut in 1983’s The Lonely Lady but his big break came three years later in Something Wild, which earned the actor his first Golden Globe nomination. 

But, without a doubt, Liotta’s most iconic role was and is in Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster masterpiece GoodFellas from 1990. Liotta memorably played Henry Hill, an aspiring gangster. It was a tough role, because he was both a villain and a hero, even if a reluctant one at that. Liotta is featured in almost every scene and it’s a role that Liotta himself said defined him, with people constantly mentioning GoodFellas when talking with him. 


While Henry Hill might have been a violent mobster – although by far the least violent one in the movie – Liotta was known as an all-around great guy. Yesterday, social media was filled with tributes and anecdotes of the man, whom many considered their cinematic hero. People shared their encounters with him, not a bad one among them. 

The actor also showed great ability to laugh at himself. In Bee Movie, he voiced himself for a scene that light-heartedly pokes fun at the actor’s mannerisms. Colleagues and fans described the actor as gracious, kind and warm. Seth Rogen, Melanie Lynskey, Giancarlo Esposito and Kevin Costner are among the many who have posted tributes and spoken of their grief. 

Martin Scorsese, who directed Liotta’s career-making performance in GoodFellas said in a statement: “He was so uniquely gifted, so adventurous, so courageous as an actor. Playing Henry Hill in GoodFellas was a tall order, because the character had so many different facets, so many complicated layers, and Ray was in almost every scene of a long, tough shoot. He absolutely amazed me, and I’ll always be proud of the work we did together on that picture. My heart goes out to his loved ones, and it aches for his loss, way too early.”

It’s clear that Hollywood, and the world, lost someone very special yesterday. But thankfully, Liotta lives on in his films, his talent and versatility forever immortalised on celluloid. GoodFellas might have been his defining role, but his performance as Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams is equally memorable. 

Liotta continued to work until his death, which happened in the middle of filming Dangerous Waters. In recent years, Liotta brought his charm into such films as The Many Saints of Newark and Marriage Story as well as the TV show Hanna. Liotta is survived by a daughter, Karsen and his fiancé Jacy Nittolo.

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