Ray Liotta, Goodfellas and Field of Dreams star, dies at 67

Ray Liotta, the actor best known for playing mobster Henry Hill in goodfellas and baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of dreams, has passed away. He was 67.

Liotta’s publicist, Jen Allen, said he was shooting a new movie in the Dominican Republic and didn’t wake up Thursday morning. An official of the National Forensic Science Institute of the Dominican Republic, who was not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed the death and said his body was being taken to Cristo Redentor’s morgue.

Condolences quickly poured in from Liotta’s colleagues.

In an email statement, Liotta’s goodfellas co-star Robert De Niro said: “I was very saddened to hear of Ray’s passing. He is far too young to have left us. May he rest in peace.”

Lorraine Bracco, who played Karen Hill in goodfellas tweeted Thursday that she was “totally devastated to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be anywhere in the world and people will come to me and tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. Then they always ask what was the best part to make that movie. My reaction has always been the same… Ray Liotta.”

Actors Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta attend Spike TV’s Fourth Annual Guys Choice Awards held at Sony Studios on June 5, 2010 in Los Angeles. De Niro said in an emailed statement he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Liotta’s passing. The two played together in 1990’s Goodfellas. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Alessandro Nivola, who recently appeared with Liotta in the sopranos prequel movie The Many Saints of Newark wrote: “I feel so lucky to have shot it against this legend in one of his last roles. The scenes we did together were some of the high points of my acting career of all time. He was dangerous, unpredictable, hilarious and generous with his praise for other actors. Too early.”

Seth Rogen, with whom Liotta appeared in the 2009 comedy Observe and report tweeted: “He was such a sweet, talented and hilarious person. Working with him was one of the greatest joys of my career and we shot some of my favorite scenes I ever got to be in. A true legend of immense skill and grace.”

Fighting for iconic goodfellas role

The Newark, NJ, native was born in 1954 and was adopted from an orphanage at six months old by a city clerk and auto parts owner. Liotta always assumed he was mostly Italian – the movies too. But later in life, while searching for his biological parents, he discovered that he is actually Scottish.

Although he grew up mostly playing sports, including baseball, during his senior year of high school, the drama teacher at the school asked him if he wanted to be in a play, which he agreed to on a lark. And it stuck: He was going to study acting at the University of Miami. After graduating, he got his first big break in the soap opera An other world

Liotta’s first major film role was in Jonathan Demme’s something wild as Melanie Griffith’s hot-headed ex-convict husband Ray. The turn earned him a Golden Globe nomination. A few years later, he would land the memorable role of the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of dreams

His most iconic role, as real-life mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s best friends, came shortly afterwards. However, he and Scorsese had to fight for it, with multiple auditions and pleas to the studio to cast the still relatively unknown.

Roger Ebert wrote in his review that: goodfellas solidified Liotta (and Bracco) as “two of our best new movie actors.”

“He creates the emotional center for a film that is not about the experience of being a mobster, but about the feeling,” Ebert continued.

Ray Liotta, Goodfellas and Field of Dreams star, dies at 67
From left to right, Liotta, Martin Scorsese and Paul Sorvino attend a screening of Goodfellas on September 17, 1990 at the Mann Bruin Theater in Westwood, California. (Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

In a 2012 interview, Liotta said, “Henry Hill isn’t that tense character. It’s really the other guys who do all the actual murders. The only physical thing he does is when he goes after the guy who’s after Karen – you know, most of the audience, that’s what they actually like him for.”

In the same interview, he marveled at how goodfellas had a “life of its own” and has only grown over time.

“People look at it over and over and still react to it, and different ages come up. Even today, teenagers come up to me and they really feel emotionally connected to it,” he said.

No matter how big the role, or even the genre, Liotta always managed to stand out and steal scenes in both dramas and comedies, be it as Johnny Depp’s father in Blow or Adam Driver’s optimistic divorce attorney in… wedding story

Mafiosos seemed to be his specialty – he even narrated an AMC documentary series called The Genesis of the Mafia — although he was wary of being typecast.

He turned down the role of Ralphie the sopranos therefore. But he would still play mafia type with James Gandolfini in Andrew Dominik’s Kill them softly† And later he would pay his own ticket to audition for The Many Saints of Newark

“I really don’t know what made me so determined,” he told The Guardian last year. “But I was and luckily it all worked out.”

Ray Liotta, Goodfellas and Field of Dreams star, dies at 67
Henry Hill and Liotta are featured in the 2004 Special Edition DVD release of Goodfellas at Matteo’s Italian Restaurant in Los Angeles. (Rebecca Sapp/WireImage)

Liotta also often played different kinds of law enforcement officers, from police and detectives to federal agents, in films as diverse as: Illegal EntryPolice countryNarcoThe place behind the Pines and Observe and report† Many were corrupt.

He fell victim to Hannibal Lecter in the 2001 movie Hannibal and played Frank Sinatra in the TV movie The Rat Pack, which earned him a Screen Actors Guild nomination. For gamers, he has been immortalized as the voice of Tommy Vercetti in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City† He also starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in the series Shades of blue

Liotta has one daughter, Karsen, with ex-wife Michelle Grace and was engaged to Jacy Nittolo at the time of his death.

“The business is tough no matter where you are in your career,” said Liotta in 2012. “There’s always a reason for them to say no to you – that part of it is terrible… But the work itself – making it of people believe that what they see is actually happening – that’s still a challenge, putting that puzzle together. You know what can I say: I still like to play pretend. And it’s definitely a fun way to earn a living .”

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