Popular actor Ray Liotta, perhaps best known for his work in Goodfellas, died in his sleep Thursday while in the Dominican Republic to shoot the film Dangerous Waters.
He was just 67, and his death was characterized as unexpected, with no cause given or determined.
Deadline first reported Liotta's death, noting he had been on location with his fiancée, Jacy Nittolo, and that the film was only halfway complete.
Born December 18, 1954, in Newark, New Jersey, Liotta was left at an orphanage. He was adopted at the age of 6 months and always knew of his status — even reportedly doing a show-and-tell on his adoption in kindergarten.
One of the ultimate Italian-American types, like his adoptive dad, research he did in the past 20 years — including finding his birth mother — revealed he was mostly Scottish, like his adoptive mom.
Liotta studied acting and appeared in a variety of musicals while attending the University of Miami. He graduated and moved to NYC, where he made his TV debut as Joey Perrini on the soap opera Another World (1978).
He went on to act in several TV movies and to make TV guest spots before his movie debut ... in the Pia Zadora bomb The Lonely Lady (1983).
And yet, he was so good, Liotta bounced back with Something Wild (1986), which garnered him a Golden Globe nomination. It was actually his most nominated performance of his career. Dominick and Eugene (1988) and 1989's Field of Dreams, in which he played the ghost of baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson, were also critical successes.
Liotta's performance as mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) was one for the ages, and the film became an iconic hit, one of the most revered gangster movies of all time. Coming on the heels of Field of Dreams, it established him as an A-lister for the '90s.
Co-star Lorraine Bracco tweeted, "I am utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be anywhere in the world & people will come up & tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. Then they always ask what was the best part of making that movie. My response has always been the same…Ray Liotta."
He also scored in Unlawful Entry (1992), Unforgettable (1996) and Cop Land (1997).
Cop Land director James Mangold tweeted of Liotta, "Shocked and saddened to hear of Ray Liotta’s passing. Beyond the tough guy exterior and the tightly wound emotions of his signature characters, he was a sweet, playful and passionate collaborator and brilliant actor. RIP."
In 1998, he played Frank Sinatra in the TV movie The Rat Pack, and went on to diversify his career by voicing Tommy Vercetti in various versions of Grand Theft Auto.
The only major award Liotta won was an Emmy for a turn on ER (2004), which he later spoofed in the animated Bee Movie (2006). He debuted on Broadway in 2004's Match.
Along with his Emmy win, Liotta was a SAG, Golden Globe, Film Independent Spirit, and MTV Movie Award nominee.
Other prominent films include Operation Dumbo Drop (1995), Hannibal (2001) — in which his character is fed his own brain by serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) — Blow (2001), Wild Hogs (2007), Date Night (2010), Muppets Most Wanted (2014), Marriage Story (2019) and The Many Saints of Newark (2021).
From 2016-2018, he was a series regular in the Jennifer Lopez TV cop drama Shades of Blue.
Liotta is expected in several posthumous releases, including Cocaine Bear, directed by Elizabeth Banks, and a Charlie Day comedy (as yet untitled), both in post-production, and both expected to be released in 2023.
Survived by his daughter Karsen from his marriage to Michelle Grace (which ended in divorce in 2004), Liotta was engaged to be married to Jacy Nittolo at the time of his sudden death.
Liotta was an actor's actor. "RIP Ray Liotta!! Loved your work," Viola Davis simply tweeted.
Among many other tributes is the following remembrance by Taron Egerton:
I stepped on the set of Black Bird in May of last year deeply excited that I would be working with Ray Liotta and even more excited that he would be playing my father.
He was keeping himself to himself. Protecting his energy and his performance. I didn't know how to approach him as I didn't want to intrude.
He caught my eye and walked over to me and hugged me without saying a word. It was a long hug. But not uncomfortable. We only spoke to each other in character for that first day. I took my lead from him. I think he wanted us to be a father and son before we were colleagues.
What ensued was a profound experience for me as an actor; I have never felt such an easy, warm connection with another performer. He was so generous. If I went one way he followed me. Always dancing. Always listening. Never self-generated.
I am extraordinarily proud of my next project. It was hard work and I was blessed to have a number of incredible scene partners, but I will always be most proud of my scenes with Ray; the relationship we built felt real in some strange way.
When I first saw our show I text him telling him that I felt his performance was beautiful and that I was very proud of our work.
His response was: 'you made it easy to love my son.'
Ray, the feeling was so, so mutual.
I will miss you.