NEW YORK — Ray Liotta, the actor best known for his role in mob classic ‘Goodfellas’, has died.
The 67-year-old New Jersey native died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic, where he was working on a new movie.
As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported Thursday, the Union High School grad didn’t exactly set out to break into Hollywood.
He was the swaggering star of one of the greatest mob movies of all time. Ray Liotta played Henry Hill in the 1990s classic Goodfellas, featuring some of the silver screen’s most iconic movie scenes.
A year earlier, Liotta had made quite an impression as a baseball ghost, playing Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams.”
He got his start in soap operas, appearing in “Another World”, and was really not interested in acting.
“Did you think you would do this now?” CBS2’s Mary Calvi asked Liotta in 2006.
“Never. I had no idea. I played sports all the time. I quit basketball my senior year and participated in the high school play, which was a horrible experience . I hated it,” Liotta said.
Liotta told Calvi that one moment changed everything for him.
“This pretty girl said, ‘Are you going to try out for the play tonight,’ and I said no. She said, ‘Well, why are you doing this? It’s all about the play.’ So I auditioned and I got it, and I was a dance server in ‘Cabaret’,” he said.
Liotta was born on December 18, 1954 in Newark and grew up in Union. He’s even in the Union High School Hall of Fame.
In the early ’90s, it looked like Liotta was headed for stardom, but Hollywood was planning a plot twist.
“He was riding high after ‘Goodfellas’ and just took a nose dive,” said New York Post entertainment critic Johnny Oleksinski.
Oleksinski said Liotta didn’t want to do more mob films.
“He made terrible choices. Look at Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco, their careers just went up and up. Liotta never worked with Martin Scorsese again, and they all did” , said Oleksinski.
Recently, Liotta starred in “The Many Saints of Newark,” a prequel film to “The Sopranos.”
Liotta may have looked like a natural badass, but that was far from the case in real life.
“I’ve only been in one fight in my entire life, and that was in seventh grade. It’s funny, my friends, they see me playing these bad guys, like people keep saying , and they laugh. Because that’s just not who I am,” Liotta told Calvi.
And the kid from Newark who has climbed the heights of Hollywood now leaves behind his touch of cinematic magic.
“I’m completely devastated to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be just about anywhere in the world and people will come and tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. And then they always ask what was best part of doing this And my response has always been the same… Ray Liotta,” actor Lorraine Bracco, his “Goodfellas” co-star, wrote on Instagram.
“Ray Liotta was an absolute legend of film and television – a Primetime Emmy Award winner and native of Newark, NJ. His on-screen work touched the lives of so many. Our hearts go out to his family, his friends and his many fans,” NJ Governor Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter.
“I was very saddened to learn of Ray’s passing. He is far too young to have left us. May he rest in peace,” De Niro said.
“Ray was my partner in crime on Shades of Blue…the first thing that comes to mind is that he [was so] kind to my children. Ray was the epitome of a badass who was all soft on the inside…I guess that’s what made him such a fascinating actor to watch,” Jennifer Lopez wrote on Twitter.
“Not Ray,” tweeted actor James Caan.