Ray Liotta, star of Goodfellas and Field of Dreams, died on Thursday whilst shooting his latest project aged 67.
Born in New Jersey, Liotta would come to be associated primarily with gangster films, the most famous of which was Goodfellas, which made him a household name. Praised both for his performances and kindness off-screen, he leaves a legacy of a wide range of fully realised characters captured forever on film.
Liotta’s career as an actor took off in the late 1980s, with an acclaimed performance in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild (1986) for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. This was shortly followed by his two most famous roles: ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams (which Liotta claimed never to have seen) and Henry Hill in Goodfellas. In that film, Liotta grounds the story as its protagonist, delicately portraying the character’s transformation and holding the audience from the famous and perfectly delivered opening line “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.”
Throughout his career, Liotta would return to the gangster and crime genres, as Gary “Figgsy” Figgis in James Mangold’s Cop Land and most recently as twin brothers in The Many Saints of Newark. Yet he also defied the forces of type-casting, playing Frank Sinatra in a 1998 TV movie (he later said of the part “I did not want to do that one at all”) and taking roles in Ridley Scott’s thriller Hannibal (2001) and in Marriage Story (2019). He also appeared briefly (and hilariously) in Muppets Most Wanted (2014).
Liotta left an enduring mark on film. Tributes praised not only his work on-screen, but his generosity and kindness on set. His co-star in Goodfellas Lorraine Bracco, tweeted that people “always ask what was the best part of making that movie. My response has always been the same…Ray Liotta.” James Mangold paid tribute to him as “a sweet, playful and passionate collaborator and brilliant actor.” Martin Scorsese praised him as “uniquely gifted, so adventurous, so courageous as an actor.”
Liotta died whilst filming his latest project, Cocaine Bear, in the Dominican Republic. Although his death came as a shock to many, he leaves behind a range of fully-realised characters. His legacy is encapsulated in a quote from an interview in 2018: “I was here to try different parts and do different things. That’s what it’s really all about. That’s what a career should be.”
Words by Reuben Bharucha
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.