Ray Liotta: A look at the ‘Goodfellas’ star’s life behind the camera and as a Hollywood legend

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Ray Liotta — known for his iconic role as Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s film — began his career in Tinseltown in the 1980s. rungs of a crime family in Brooklyn.

Liotta went on to star in dozens of film and television projects, including “The Many Saints of Newark,” “Hannibal” and “Shades of Blue,” and worked with Johnny Depp in the 2001 film “Blow.” Behind the Camera , Liotta was a doting dad to daughter Karsen, 23, whom he shared with his ex-wife, Michelle Grace.

At the time of her death, Liotta was engaged to Jacy Nittolo. He died Thursday at the age of 67 in the Dominican Republic.

Actor Ray Liotta posed for a portrait circa 1980
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Actor Ray Liotta posed for a portrait circa 1980
(Michael Ochs Archive)

A star is born

Raymond Allen Liotta, born in New Jersey on December 18, 1954, pursued a career in the entertainment industry after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Miami in 1978.

His first big break was with Joey Perrini on the daytime soap opera “Another World” from 1978 to 1981. He worked on “St. Elsewhere” and a few episodes of the television adaptation of “Casablanca” in 1983.

Liotta pivoted into films the same year with her first film role and worked alongside Pia Zadora in ‘The Lonely Lady’, which proved to be a box office bomb and received critical acclaim.

Only three years later, he was cast in his first major film role in “Something Wild” with Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels. Liotta earned his first Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, but lost the trophy to Tom Berenger in “Platoon.”

RAY LIOTTA REMEMBERS HIS ‘GOODFELLAS’ CO-STARS AND HOLLYWOOD PEERS: ‘GOD IS A GOODFELLA’

Ray Liotta worked with Jamie Lee Curtis in the 1988 drama about twin brothers.

Ray Liotta worked with Jamie Lee Curtis in the 1988 drama about twin brothers.
(Pictures of Orion)

“If you build it…”

Liotta received accolades for his role as the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in the classic 1989 baseball film ‘Field of Dreams,’ which also starred Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan and Burt Lancaster in his final role at the movie theater.

The fantasy sports drama about an Iowa corn farmer, who builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his harvest, was nominated for three Academy Awards and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2017 as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

Almost as soon as he left the outfield, Liotta hit a home run with arguably his most famous performance as Henry Hill in “Goodfellas,” alongside Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino. “As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster,” Liotta said as Henry Hill in the film’s opening line.

The Scorsese-directed film based on the 1985 non-fiction book ‘Wiseguy’ by Nicholas Pileggi about the rise and fall of a notorious mob boss, has been nominated for dozens of awards and is widely regarded as the one of the greatest movies of all time. Director David Chase says the gangster movie inspired him to create HBO’s hit TV series “The Sopranos,” which also shares nearly two dozen of the same characters.

Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino and Joe Pesci for the film 'Goodfellas', 1990.  "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster," Liotta stated as Henry Hill in the first line of the film.

Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino and Joe Pesci for the movie ‘Goodfellas’, 1990. “As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster,” Liotta said as Henry Hill in the first line of the film.
(Warner Brothers)

Ray Liotta died at the age of 67 this Thursday, May 26 in the Dominican Republic.

Ray Liotta died at the age of 67 this Thursday, May 26 in the Dominican Republic.
(Eric Robert/Sygma/Sygma)

Ray Liotta, winner of Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for "Emergency room" in 2004

Ray Liotta, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series award winner for “ER” in 2004
(Mathew Imaging/Film Magic)

Liotta continued to work on action films with “Unlawful Entry” and “No Escape”, before changing pace in the field of family feature films with “Corrina, Corrina” with Whoopi Gholdberg in 1994, and “Operation Dumbo Drop” the following year.

He returned to work with De Niro in the 1997 neo-noir crime drama “Cop Land” also starring Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel and Michael Rapaport. Liotta felt comfortable wearing a badge on camera, where he worked as a detective on “Phoenix” with Anthony LaPaglia, Anjelica Huston and Daniel Baldwin in 1998.

Liotta switched gears playing Frederick “Fred” Jung in “Blow” starring Johnny Depp, a 2001 film based on the real-life stories of George Jung, Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel. That same year he worked on “Hannibal” and “Heartbreakers”.

RAY LIOTTA REVEALS WHY FRANK SINATRA’S DAUGHTERS SENT HIM A HORSE HEAD

He had a thing for neo-noir, the crime drama genre, and worked on “Narc,” “Identity,” “John Q.” with Denzel Washington, “Powder Blue” with Patrick Swayze and “Hero Wanted” with Cuba Gooding, Jr.

In 2011, Liotta worked with Channing Tatum and Al Pacino in “The Son of No One”, and followed in 2012 with “Killing Them Softly” with Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini, “Wanderlust” with Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, and “No Sudden Move” with Benicio del Toro, Don Cheadle, Jon Hamm and Brendan Fraser.

His voice remains in infamy as Tommy Vercetti in the 2002 game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and he narrated “Inside the Mafia” for the National Geographic Channel in 2004, in addition to the AMC documentary series “The Making of the Mob” in 2015.

Brad Pitt and Ray Liotta attend the after party

Brad Pitt and Ray Liotta attend the ‘Killing Them Softly’ after party hosted by Chopard, Matchless and Johnnie Walker Blue Label at Villa St George on May 22, 2012 in Cannes, France.
(Dave M. Benet)

Small screen success

Not only was Liotta known for his dozens of film roles, he also left a mark on television. Liotta won an Emmy Award in 2004 for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Charlie Metcalf in an episode of the medical drama “ER,” and was nominated for multiple Screen Actors Guild Awards for various roles.

He played Frank Sinatra in the TV movie “The Rat Pack” in 1998 and worked on five episodes of the historical miniseries “Texas Rising” in 2015.

Her most notable TV show was starring in the American crime drama “Shades of Blue” starring Jennifer Lopez and Drea de Matteo, which ran for 36 episodes from 2016 to 2018.

Liotta recently returned to mainstream cinema with “The Many Saints of Newark,” and was also a fixture alongside Taron Egerton in the Apple TV+ series “Black Bird.”

Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta worked on "shades of blue" for 36 episodes before the show was canceled in 2018.

Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta worked on “Shades of Blue” for 36 episodes before the show was canceled in 2018.
(James Devane)

Liotta leaves a legacy

The New Jersey native married producer Michelle Grace in 1997, and the couple have a daughter, Karsen, 23. Grace and Liotta divorced in 2004.

He reportedly met fiancé Jacy Nittolo through his daughter at a party, and the couple got engaged around Christmas 2020.

“Christmas Wishes Come True” he wrote in the caption from an Instagram post shared at the time. “I asked the love of my life to marry me, and thank God she said yes!!!”

Nittolo has four children from a previous relationship: sons Dax, 24, Chazz, 22, and Joey, 11, and daughter Jade, 19.

Liotta died in his sleep at the age of 67 in the Dominican Republic while filming the movie “Dangerous Waters”. Nittolo was with him at the time of his death.

The late actor proposed to Jacy Nittolo in 2020 after years of dating.

The late actor proposed to Jacy Nittolo in 2020 after years of dating.
(Amy Susan)

Karsen Liotta and Ray Liotta Attend Netflix "Marriage story" New York premiere at the Théâtre de Paris on November 10, 2019

Karsen Liotta and Ray Liotta attend the New York premiere of Netflix’s “Marriage Story” at Paris Theater on November 10, 2019
(Arturo Holmes)

Ray Liotta and Michelle Grace attend the World Premiere of "philadelphia cream" December 14, 1993

Ray Liotta and Michelle Grace attend the World Premiere of ‘Philadelphia’ on December 14, 1993
(Ron Galella, Ltd.)

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His “Goodfellas” co-star Joe Pesci told Fox News Digital in a statement, “God is a Goodfella, and so is Ray.”

Robert De Niro told Fox News Digital, “I was very saddened to learn of Ray’s passing. He is far too young to have left us. May he rest in peace.”

Martin Scorsese said: “I am absolutely shocked and devastated by the sudden and unexpected death of Ray Liotta. He was so uniquely gifted, so adventurous, so brave as an actor. Playing Henry Hill in Good Fellas was a tall order. , because the character had so many different sides, so many complicated layers, and Ray was in almost every scene of a long and difficult shoot, he absolutely amazed me and I will always be proud of the work we did together in this picture. My heart goes out to his loved ones, and it hurts for his loss, all too soon.”

“I am absolutely devastated to hear this terrible news regarding my Ray,” Lorraine Bracco wrote online. “I can be anywhere in the world and people come up and tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. Then they always ask what was the best part of making that movie. My answer has always been the same …Ray Liotta.”

John Travolta jumped on the back of a motorcycle for the 2007 premiere "wild pigs" with Ray Liotta and Tim Allen.

John Travolta hopped on the back of a motorcycle for the 2007 premiere of “Wild Hogs” with Ray Liotta and Tim Allen.
(Fred Duval/FilmMagic)

Jamie Lee Curtis wrote on Instagram: “Ray Liotta passed away. What a nice human. His acting work showed his complexity as a human. A beautiful artist. We made the lovely movie Dominic and Eugene in 1986. Sad news.”

“Shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Ray Liotta. Beyond the badass exterior and intertwined emotions of his iconic characters, he was a sweet, playful, and passionate collaborator and brilliant actor. RIP” , said director James Mangold.

“RIP Ray Liotta. I feel so lucky to have faced this legend in one of his last roles,” the ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ star wrote. Alessandro Nivola. “The scenes we did together were some of the highlights of my acting career. He was dangerous, unpredictable, hilarious and generous with his praise for other actors. Too soon.”

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