Ray Liotta, ‘Goodfellas’ star and gifted character actor, 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.

Ray Liotta, the actor most known for portraying mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s crime classic “Goodfellas” and bringing seductively 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 spokeswoman, Jennifer Allen. No foul play is suspected, according to Allen, who said Liotta’s fiancée Jacy Nittolo was with him on the island.

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

But he occasionally showed off a kinder side, charming himself to audiences as the ghost of baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams,” starring Kevin Costner.

“Goodfellas” was unquestionably the high-water mark of his career, though, giving him a juicy main part in a decade-spanning mafia epic. He portrayed Henry Hill, a real-life mob associate who becomes swept up in the thrill and glamour of the criminal underground.

“As long back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” Liotta’s Hill memorably declares at the start of the film via voiceover, summing up Scorsese’s depiction of mid-century mob life as the ultimate desire for men with murky morals.

Lorraine Bracco, who portrayed Liotta’s long-suffering wife in “Goodfellas,” paid respects to her former co-star on Twitter after the news surfaced, writing: “I am absolutely crushed to hear this dreadful news about dear Ray.”

“I can be anywhere in the world & people will come up & tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. Then people always ask what was the finest part of making that movie. My response has been the same… Ray Liotta,” Bracco said in the tweet.

In the wake of “Goodfellas,” Liotta became a respected screen artist and recognized face, reinventing himself in the last years of his career actor who could lend gravitas and swagger to any scene.

He enjoyed a small-scale revival in recent years, showing up as a divorce lawyer in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” a mob head in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move,” and a New Jersey bigwig in “The Several Saints of Newark,” a precursor to HBO’s “The Sopranos.”

“I used to think when I first started acting, that I had to experience everything to be able to perform it. But then I discovered 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 on Dec. 18, 1954, in New Jersey. He was adopted by Alfred and Catherine Liotta when he was a baby. He made his acting debut in the NBC daytime soap opera “Another World,” and then failed to obtain substantial Hollywood roles.

He got his breakout part in Jonathan Demme’s off-kilter comedy “Something Wild,” as Melanie Wallace’s insane ex-convict husband — a turn that hinted at the disarming nerviness he might bring to the screen.

“Field of Dreams” enhanced his stature and “Goodfellas” launched him into American movie history. Liotta held his own against Scorsese stalwarts Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. (Pesci was the only cast member to receive an Academy Award nomination, receiving the supporting actor Oscar in 1991.)

The years that followed were a mixed blessing for Liotta’s career. He ranged between grim criminal sagas, thrillers, and comedies. The highlights were keyed-up turns in films like “Blow,” “Narc,” “John Q,” “Identity” and “The Place Beyond the Pines.”

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

Liotta was married to Michelle Grace and has one child.