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

He died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic, where he was filming a movie called “Dangerous Waters,” according to his publicist.
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Ray Liotta, the actor best known for portraying mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" and bringing magnetically edgy energy to a gallery of crime dramas and thrillers, has died.

He was 67.

Liotta died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic, where he was filming the movie "Dangerous Waters," according to his publicist, Jennifer Allen. No foul play is suspected, said Allen, who said Liotta's fiancée, Jacy Nittolo, was with him on the island.

Scorsese said in a statement: "I'm absolutely shocked and devastated by the sudden, unexpected death of Ray Liotta. He was so uniquely gifted, so adventurous, so courageous as an actor."

In an acting career that spanned four decades, Liotta established himself as one of the most dependable tough-guy performers in Hollywood, skilled at portraying cops and criminals in films like "Something Wild," "Cop Land" and "Killing Them Softly."

GOODFELLAS, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, 1990. ©Warner Bros./
Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas." Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

But he occasionally showed off a warmer side, endearing himself to audiences as the ghost of baseball giant Shoeless Joe Jackson in "Field of Dreams," opposite Kevin Costner.

"Goodfellas" was indisputably the high-water mark of his career, however, providing him with a juicy lead role in a decade-spanning mafia epic co-starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. He portrayed Henry Hill, a real-life mob associate who gets swept up in the thrill and glamour of the criminal underworld.

"I was very saddened to learn of Ray’s passing. He is way too young to have left us," De Niro said in a statement. "May he Rest in Peace."

Pesci said in an email: "God is a Goodfella, and so is Ray."

In the wake of "Goodfellas," Liotta remained a respected screen artist and a recognizable face, reinventing himself in the later years of his career as a character actor who could add gravitas and swagger to any scene.

He enjoyed a small-scale comeback in recent years, showing up as a divorce lawyer in Noah Baumbach’s "Marriage Story," a mob chief in Steven Soderbergh’s "No Sudden Move" and a New Jersey bigwig in "The Many Saints of Newark," a prequel to HBO's "The Sopranos."

"I used to think, when I first started acting, that I had to experience everything to be able to do it. But then I realized that what acting is is using your imagination," Liotta told The New York Times for a profile published in 1992.

Raymond Allen Liotta was born Dec. 18, 1954, in New Jersey. He was adopted by Alfred and Mary Liotta when he was a baby. He made his acting debut in the NBC daytime soap opera "Another World," then struggled to find major Hollywood work.

He scored his breakout role in Jonathan Demme's off-kilter comedy "Something Wild," playing Melanie Griffith's psychotic ex-convict husband — a turn that hinted at the disarming nerviness he could bring to the screen.

Ray Liotta
Ray Liotta in "Field of Dreams." Universal / Courtesy Everett Collection

"Field of Dreams" elevated his status, and "Goodfellas" catapulted him into American film history. (Pesci was the only "Goodfellas" cast member to receive an Academy Award nomination, winning the best supporting actor Oscar in 1991.)

Liotta will forever be associated with dialogue he utters in voice-over at the start of “Goodfellas”: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” The line summed up Scorsese’s vision of midcentury mob life as the ultimate aspiration for men with shaky morals.

"Playing Henry Hill in 'GoodFellas' was a tall order, because the character had so many different facets, so many complicated layers, and Ray was in almost every scene of a long, tough shoot," Scorsese said in his statement. "He absolutely amazed me, and I'll always be proud of the work we did together on that picture."

The decades that followed were a mixed bag. Liotta alternated between gritty crime sagas, thrillers and comedies. The highlights included keyed-up turns in films like "Blow," "Narc," "John Q," "Identity" and "The Place Beyond the Pines."

He occasionally showed up on television, too, playing himself on the sitcom "Just Shoot Me!" and co-starring with Jennifer Lopez on the NBC cop drama "Shades of Blue."

In the recent "Sopranos" prequel film, "The Many Saints of Newark," Liotta played a dual role, creating "two distinctly separate characters," according to "Sopranos" creator David Chase.

"I have been an admirer of Ray’s work since I saw him in 'Something Wild,' a movie he wrenched by the tail. I was so glad he worked on 'The Many Saints of Newark.' I believed strongly in my heart that he could play that double role," Chase said in a statement.

"We all felt we lucked out having him on that movie," he added.

Liotta had one daughter with his ex-wife, Michelle Grace.