Ray Liotta

Ray Liotta

Active - 1980 - 2023  |   Born - Dec 18, 1954 in Newark, New Jersey, United States  |   Died - May 26, 2022   |   Genres - Drama, Thriller, Crime

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Biography by AllMovie

Actor Ray Liotta's intense demeanor and fondness for edgy roles quickly established him as one of the most interesting and respected supporting players of his generation. Born in Newark, NJ, on December 18, 1955, he was adopted at the age of six months, by Alfred and Mary Liotta, and raised in Union Township, New Jersey. (His parents adopted another child, Linda, three years later.)

As a gifted high school athlete, Liotta played varsity basketball and soccer, while working a side job in his father's auto supply shop. After graduation, he left home to attend the University of Miami, where he cultivated an interest in acting and majored in Drama. Liotta appeared in a number of collegiate productions, including a surprising number of musicals (Cabaret, The Sound of Music). Within a year of graduation, Liotta scored a one-shot commercial and a recurring three-year role as Joey Perrini on the daytime soap opera Another World; he also joined the cast of several short-lived prime-time network TV series, including Crazy Times (1981) - with David Caruso and Amy Madigan - and Casablanca (1983) - featuring David Soul in the role Humphrey Bogart made famous, and Liotta as Sacha.

Liotta signed for his first film role in the 1983 Pia Zadora vehicle The Lonely Lady, but didn't break into the big time until 1986, when Jonathan Demme cast him as the psychotic Ray Sinclair in the comedy-drama Something Wild. Liotta's well-received performance won him a number of Hollywood offers playing over-the-top villains, but, determined to avoid typecasting - , Liotta rejected the solicitations and traveled the opposite route, with gentle, sensitive roles in Dominick and Eugene and Field of Dreams (as the legendary "Shoeless" Joe Jackson). His determination to wait for the right role paid off in 1990, when he was cast as mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's masterful crime drama GoodFellas. However, while the success of GoodFellas raised Liotta's profile considerably, he clung to his high standards, waiting for the right part (and wary of compromise).

While he still found himself playing tough and/or scary guys in the likes of Unlawful Entry and No Escape, in Corrina, Corrina showcased Liotta's talent as a a romantic lead, and he catered to "family friendly" audiences with Disney's Operation Dumbo Drop (1995) and Tim Hill's Muppets From Space (1999). After a productive 2001, with key roles in the blockbuster hits Blow, Hannibal, and Heartbreakers, the actor formed his own production company to ensure a greater diversity of roles and more interesting material. For his debut as a producer, Liotta developed and released the critically acclaimed Narc; he also appears in the film, as a hot-headed ex-cop.

Liotta hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live in 2003, the same year he cameo'd in director Peter Segal's Anger Management, starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. But that year also marked the beginning of a downswing for the gifted thesp. His activity ostensibly crescendoed through the end of 2004 - but, despite scattered encouraging reviews - his trio of major films from that year (a sociopath in Tim Hunter's Control, a corrupt cop in Matthew Chapman's Slow Burn, a bit part in Jeff Nathanson's Tinseltown satire The Last Shot) saw extremely limited release and fell just ahead of going straight to video. As 2005 dawned, he restrategized by sticking with higher-profile directors - specifically, Guy Ritchie for Revolver (second billing, as a casino owner targeted by a vengeful ex-con) and Mark Rydell for the sports gambling drama Even Money. This plan proved uneven: the Ritchie film tanked amid widespread accusations of directorial pretentiousness, while the Rydell film seemed destined to score given the talent in the cast (Danny de Vito, Kim Basinger, Tim Roth, Forest Whitaker).

As 2006 rolled around, Liotta returned to the glitter box - for the first time in twenty-five years - with the action-laced ensemble crime drama Smith. Slated with a September '06 premiere, this CBS series follows the adventures of a collective of high-rolling thieves who execute dazzling crimes with cunning and adroitness; Liotta plays one of the criminals. That same year, Liotta continued his big screen forays with appearances in the gentle coming-of-age drama Local Color, as a dad who passionately objects to his son's desire to apprentice a master painter, and Bruce McCulloch's buddy comedy Comeback Season, as a down-and-outer, rejected by his wife, who makes a close friend in prison. These projects suggested a turn away from tough guy roles and Liotta's harkening back to the gently understated work that he perfected in Dominick and Field of Dreams.

Working steadily over the next few years -- albeit frewquently in lower-profile productions -- Liotta followed his Emmy-winning 2005 guest appearance on ER with playful turns in the comedies Observe and Report (2009), Crazy on the Outside (2010), and opposite Toby Maguire in The Details (2012).

Liotta married actress Michelle Grace (Narc, Baseball Wives) in 1997, who co-produced his dance drama Take the Lead (2006) with him. The couple divorced in 2004.

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  • Worked as a bartender for the Shubert Theater in New York City before making it as an actor.
  • Early TV credit was portraying the bartender Sacha in the 1983 NBC series Casablanca, which also featured David Soul (in the role originally played by Humphrey Bogart), Hector Elizondo and Scatman Crothers.
  • Despite his pivotal role as the ghost of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, said that he found the success of Field of Dreams baffling because the premise was so outlandish.
  • While researching his role as a VA doctor in 1992's Article 99, he shadowed the chief surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and passed out during a procedure, chipping two teeth and requiring 15 stitches in his chin.
  • Provided the voice of lead character Tommy Vercetti in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.