DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—Actor Ray Liotta, best known for his role as gangster Henry Hill in “Goodfellas,” died while on location filming a movie in the Dominican Republic, his publicist, Jennifer Allen confirmed Thursday, May 26. Liotta was 67.
Liotta reportedly died in his sleep in his hotel room while filming “Dangerous Waters,” Allen confirmed. His fiancée, Jacy Nittolo was with him on the island. The cause of his death is not yet known.
The actor had a successful, decades-long, acting career (he’s appeared in more than 70 films in his lifetime) that consisted of a variety of roles. His first major film role was playing Melanie Griffith’s ex-con husband in “Something Wild” in 1986, a performance that earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
While he was most notably known for an intensity that made him well-suited for bad-boy roles, like Henry in “Goodfellas” or Ray in “Something Wild,” Liotta played nice-guy roles just as well, like in “Dominick & Eugene,” where his character takes care of his mentally-challenged twin brother, and as baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams.” Liotta reportedly carefully chose a range of roles to portray in order to avoid being typecast.
He did not initially plan on being an actor. “To be honest with you, I thought I’d be in construction,” he said in a 2021 interview with The Guardian. Liotta only studied drama in college because it didn’t have a math requirement and he only started auditioning for plays because a pretty girl convinced him to.
It was in college at the University of Miami that he started studying drama and got his first part in a play, as a dancing waiter in Cabaret. He enjoyed it so much that he stayed the full four years and eventually moved to New York where he got a regular role in a soap opera, “Another World,” and was eventually cast in “Something Wild.”
Liotta more recently played a supporting role in “The Many Saints of Newark,” the film that highlights the uprising of a young Tony Soprano who came to be one of the most iconic mob bosses from the hit HBO series “The Sopranos.”
“Of all the scary legends I’ve worked with – De Niro, Christopher Walken, Joaquin Phoenix, Shirley MacLaine – Ray is the one I was most intimidated by,” the films lead, Alessandro Nivola said. “Not because he’s mean – he’s not – but because he’s so intensely committed to the art of acting,” Nivola added.
Lorraine Bracco, who played Liotta’s wife, Karen, in “Goodfellas,” wrote that she was “utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be anywhere in the world & people will come up & 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.”
Former co-star Seth Rogan took to Twitter as well to express the news of Liotta’s passing:
“I can’t believe Ray Liotta has passed away. He was such a lovely, talented and hilarious person,” Rogan said. “Working with him was one of the great joys of my career and we made some of my favorite scenes I ever got to be in. A true legend of immense skill and grace,” he added.
Liotta, whose birth name is Raymond Allen Liotta, was born on December 18, 1954 in Newark, New Jersey. When he was six months old, he was adopted from a Newark orphanage by his adoptive mother and father, Italian-American couple Mary Miller and Alfred Liotta, who were owners of a chain of automotive-supply stores, according to his IMDD profile. In 2006, he tracked down his biological mother and learned that – despite the Italian-American image he depicted in his film roles – he was not Italian at all, he was Scottish.
Liotta is survived by his daughter, Karen Liotta and his fiancée, Jacy Nittolo.