Joe Pesci

Active - 1976 - 2019  |   Born - Feb 9, 1943 in Newark, New Jersey, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Crime, Action, Comedy Drama

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Biography by Jason Ankeny

A consummate character actor, Joe Pesci rose to success on the strength of a series of Martin Scorsese films which took full advantage of his gift for outlandishly menacing supporting performances. Born February 9, 1943, in Newark, NJ, Pesci was a child actor who began his radio career at the age of four. Broadway beckoned just a year later, and by 1953 he was a regular on the television variety program Star Time Kids. His acting career stalled during his teen years, however, and by the mid-'60s, he mounted a musical career under the name Joe Ritchie, recording an LP titled Little Joe Sure Can Sing and later playing guitar in the pop band Joey Dee & the Starliters. He also formed a vaudeville-style nightclub comedy act with Frank Vincent. Outside of 1961's Hey, Let's Twist!, Pesci did not appear in films prior to the little-seen 1975 feature The Death Collector; the film earned virtually no notice upon its release and he dropped out of acting, dejectedly returning to New York to run an Italian restaurant.

While few people saw The Death Collector, one of those who did was actor Robert De Niro, who was so impressed by Pesci's performance that he brought the film to the attention of Scorsese, who cast Pesci in his 1980 masterpiece Raging Bull. The performance earned Pesci an Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category, and he became one of the busiest character actors in the business, steadily appearing in films ranging from the 1983 Rodney Dangerfield comedy Easy Money to the 1984 Sergio Leone epic Once Upon a Time in America. After starring in a failed 1985 sitcom, Half Nelson, Pesci's onscreen visibility diminished, and over the next four years he appeared in only one film, 1987's Man on Fire. In 1989, however, he co-starred opposite Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the hit Lethal Weapon 2, a performance which put his talent for comic relief to such fine use that he later reappeared in the third chapter of the franchise, issued in 1992.

By that point, Pesci had already become a star; 1990 was his breakthrough year, as he appeared in the family comedy blockbuster Home Alone and Scorsese's brilliant GoodFellas, winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his vivid portrayal of a psychotic mobster. While his first major starring role in 1991's The Super proved disastrous, he won good notices for his supporting turn in Oliver Stone's JFK and in 1992 starred in the hit courtroom comedy My Cousin Vinny. Later, following the disappointment of 1994's Jimmy Hollywood and With Honors, he reunited with Scorsese and De Niro for the 1995 epic Casino, essaying a variation on his GoodFellas character. However, a pair of poorly received 1997 comedies -- Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag and Gone Fishin' -- again called Pesci's capabilities as a lead actor into question. He found more success reprising his supporting role in Lethal Weapon 4, released in 1998. On the heels of his second outing with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, however, the popular character actor disappeared from the big screen for nearly a decade. It took his old friend DeNiro to get him back in front of the camera for the CIA thriller The Good Shepherd (2006), with the four year gap between that film and Pesci's next film Love Ranch hinting that the aging screen veterean was in no hurry to jump back into the fray. But the window between films seemed to start shrinking when it was announced that Pesci would be returning to the world of crime cinema in director Geo Santini's 2012 gangster drama The Irishman.

Movie Highlights

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  • As a child, he appeared in plays and the TV variety show Startime Kids.
  • Recorded an album in the '60s called Little Joe Sure Can Sing under the name Joe Ritchie.
  • Played guitar and sang in the band Joey Dee and the Starliters.
  • Landed the role of Joey LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980) after Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro saw him in the 1976 cheapie The Death Collector.
  • Provided the voice of the Brooklyn Bridge in a Lexus commercial.
  • Friendly with the members of The Four Seasons and appeared as a character in the group's Tony-winning bio-musical Jersey Boys.
  • Sued producers of Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father in 2011, claiming he gained 30 lbs. for a promised lead role in the film, only to then be offered a smaller part.