By BERNICE FOX
Tributes are coming in as fans and the world of entertainment mourn the death of Ray Liotta.
A longtime resident of the Palisades Highlands, Liotta died in his sleep in his hotel room in the Dominican Republic where he was making a movie, a thriller called Dangerous Waters. He was 67. Liotta’s publicist says the actor’s fiancée, Jacy Nittolo, was with him.
Liotta was best known for playing real-life gangster, Henry Hill, in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic, Goodfellas.
Lorraine Bracco, who played Hill’s wife, tweeted she is “utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray.
“I can be anywhere in the world and people will come up and 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.”
Liotta also was known for playing disgraced baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams, which came out in 1989, a year before Goodfellas.
To Pacific Palisades residents he was a neighbor, who when he wasn’t filming, was seen on local hiking trails and at his daughter Karsen’s schools – always the proud father.
He threw out the first pitch to start the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association’s season in 2006. The man, with the piercing blue eyes, was surrounded by fans. Ever gracious, he took time to sign autographs before leaving for a rehearsal with Virginia Madsen for a new hour-long TV drama called Smith that was going to be filmed in Pittsburgh.
According to the late executive director of the Palisades Chamber of Commerce, Arnie Wishnick, Liotta was on his “short” list as a possible honorary mayor – except he was always working.
A Highlands resident remembers being with a group on Palisades Drive who were training to operate radar on that stretch of road.
“A car pulled over after seeing us and I was prepared for a screaming, unhappy driver,” the resident said. “Instead, it was Ray Liotta; he wanted to know what we were doing. We told him and he couldn’t have been more polite and professional. We shook hands and he thanked us for our service to the community.”
Those remembrances show how different Liotta was from some of his tough-guy roles.
Tough guys, nice ones and in-between filled Liotta’s acting career.
Liotta was memorable early in his career for playing the violent husband of Melanie Griffith’s character in Something Wild in 1986. Field of Dreams and Goodfellas came soon after.
The Hollywood Reporter ticks off some of his crime roles and those of cops with questionable ethics, saying they were his specialty. They include Unlawful Entry (1992), Cop Land (1997) and Narc (2002) and the voice of a mobster in the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
From 2016-18, Liotta played a corrupt cop in the NBC series, Shades of Blue, opposite Jennifer Lopez, who also produced the show.
When hearing of his death, Lopez tweeted, “Ray was my partner in crime on Shades of Blue … the first thing that comes to mind is he so was kind to my children. Ray was the epitome of a tough guy who was all mushy on the inside … I guess that’s what made him such a compelling actor to watch. The original Goodfella.”
The Hollywood Reporter says Liotta had a busy recent few years, with roles in Marriage Story (2019), No Sudden Move (2021) and The Many Saints of Newark (2021) — as two members of the Moltisanti family in the Sopranos prequel. And he played a villain on the third season of the Amazon Prime series Hanna.
There’s also an upcoming Apple TV series Black Bird and, according to IMDb.com, Liotta worked on movies that haven’t been released yet, such as Cocaine Bear; The Substance; April 29, 1992, and more.
Liotta won an Emmy in 2005 for his guest role as an alcoholic ex-con on the NBC drama ER. The episode was shot in real time. He then played on that performance for comic-effect in Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie (2007).
Ray Liotta was born December 18, 1954, in New Jersey. He was adopted from an orphanage when he was six months old by Mary and Alfred Liotta, an auto parts retailer.
In 2012, he told the Hollywood Reporter he “played pretend games as a kid, army, whatever, but I never wanted to be an actor.
“Basically, I just played sports all the time. Basketball, baseball, football, you know, whatever the season was. But I remember senior year (in high school), basketball had stopped, and the drama teacher asked me if I wanted to be in the play. So, ‘alright, I’m not doing anything, I’m used to hanging around anyway, sure, I’ll be in the play.’”
Liotta studied acting at the University of Miami, graduating in 1978. He soon landed the role of nice guy Joey Perrini on the NBC soap Another World. And his career was off and running.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Liotta leaves his fiancée, his daughter, his adoptive family and other relatives he discovered about 23 years ago while doing research on his birth mother.