Birthdate: December 18, 1954
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, USA
Ray Liotta (birthname: Raymond Allen Liotta) was an acclaimed actor known for his vivid portrayal of criminals and conflicted cops. Liotta’s film debut was in a supporting role in the commercial and critical bomb, The Lonely Lady (1983), with Pia Zadora. Liotta followed this with his acclaimed breakthrough performance as a crazed crook in Jonathan Demme’s dazzling comedy, Something Wild (1986), starring Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels, for which Liotta earned several major critical awards nominations including the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle.
Liotta solidified his sterling reputation with a powerful performance in director Robert M. Young’s Dominick and Eugene (1988), with Tom Hulce and Jamie Lee Curtis, earning Golden Globe nominations. Liotta portrayed “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in writer-director Phil Alden Robinson’s beloved baseball fantasy movie, Field of Dreams (1989), starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster, and grossing $84.4 million globally. Ray Liotta delivered one of his greatest performances for Martin Scorsese as Henry Hill in Scorsese’s masterpiece, Goodfellas (1990), starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, and Paul Sorvino, and earning a $47 million gross and an Oscar for Pesci.
Liotta starred with Kiefer Sutherland in the comedy-drama, Article 99 (1992), with Forest Whitaker, Lea Thompson, and Kathy Baker, though it failed commercially. Liotta played a twisted cop in director Jonathan Kaplan’s thriller, Unlawful Entry (1992), with Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe, earning $57 million. Liotta was the name above the title in the commercially failed Martin Campbell directed dystopian thriller, No Escape (1994), with Lance Henriksen, Stuart Wilson, Kevin Dillon, and Ernie Hudson. Liotta co-starred with Whoopi Goldberg in the comedy-drama, Corrina, Corrina (1994), which grossed only $20 million on a $22 million budget.
Ray Liotta co-starred in one of his few Disney movies, Operation Dumbo Drop (1995), co-starring Danny Glover, Denis Leary, Doug E. Doug, and Colin Nemec, but grossing only just over its $24 million budget. Unfortunately, Liotta’s next project also lost money, the interesting John Dahl-directed sci-fi thriller, Unforgettable (1996), so-starring Linda Fiorentino, Peter Coyote, and Christopher McDonald. MGM’s action movie starring Liotta and Lauren Holly, Turbulence (1997), lost even more money, grossing only $11.5 million. Liotta co-starred in the hit crime movie written and directed by James Mangold, Cop Land (1997), with Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Cathy Moriarty, which grossed $63.7 million globally.
After the little-seen crime movie, Phoenix (1998), in which Liotta starred and co-produced, Liotta co-starred with Joseph Fiennes and Gretchen Mol in Paul Schrader’s drama, Forever Mine (1999), and premiering at the Telluride Film Festival. Ray Liotta co-starred with Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore in the Ridley Scott-directed smash hit, Hannibal (2001), a kind of follow-up to The Silence of the Lambs earning over $351 million worldwide. Liotta was in another successful movie with the crime comedy, Heartbreakers (2001), starring Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Gene Hackman, and grossing nearly $58 million.
Liotta joined director-producer Ted Demme in the crime movie, Blow (2001), starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, and earning over $83 million worldwide. Liotta was a lead producer and star for the first time in writer-director Joe Carnahan’s successful cop movie, Narc (2002), which doubled its costs with over $12 million box office. An even bigger hit with Liotta in the cast was the thriller, John Q (2002), starring Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods, and Anne Heche, and grossing over $102 million. Liotta’s next hit movie was director James Mangold’s Agatha Christie-inspired Identity (2003), with John Cusack, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, and Alfred Molina, earning a terrific take of over $90 million.
Ray Liotta joined writer-director Guy Ritchie for the action thriller, Revolver (2005), co-starring Jason Statham, Vincent Pastore, Andre Benjamin, and Mark Strong, grossing over $6 million. After the poorly-performing drama, Slow Burn (2005) and the little-seen crime movie, Even Money (2006), Liotta had a big hit as executive producer (only) on the dance movie, Take the Lead (2006), starring Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, and Alfre Woodard, directed by Liz Friedlander, and grossing over $66 million worldwide.
Liotta co-starred with Armin Mueller-Stahl, Trevor Morgan, Samantha Mathis, Ron Perlman, and Charles Durning in writer-director George Gallo’s personal drama, Local Color (2006), which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Liotta starred in another Tribeca premiere with writer-director Bruce McCulloch’s Comeback Season (2006), followed by Liotta’s supporting turn in writer-director Joe Carnahan’s hit action comedy, Smokin’ Aces (2006), starring Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Alicia Keys, Jeremy Piven, and Ryan Reynolds, and grossing over $57 million globally.
Liotta had a supporting role in the biker movie, Wild Hogs (2007), co-starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy, and grabbing a total box office of over $253 million. After co-starring in the little-seen political drama, Battle in Seattle (2007), Liotta had one of his few animated voice roles in DreamWorks Animation’s Bee Movie (2007), starring Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, and Chris Rock, grossing nearly $294 million.
Despite Liotta co-starring with Harrison Ford, along with Ashley Judd and Jim Sturgess, the Wayne Kramer-directed Crossing Over (2009) failed at the box office; Liotta’s next was the more successful cop movie, Observe and Report (2009), starring Seth Rogen, Michael Peña, and Anna Faris, earning $27 million globally. Liotta joined the fine cast of Miguel Arteta’s cult classic, Youth in Revolt (2009), starring Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday, though it earned only $19.7 million.
After playing support in the Zac Efron-starring drama, Charlie St. Cloud (2010) and writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes’ black comedy, The Details (2011), Ray Liotta continued his long string of crime movies with writer-director Dito Montiel’s The Son of No One (2011), with Channing Tatum, Tracy Morgan, Katie Holmes, Juliette Binoche, and Al Pacino, earning a poor $1.1 million. After a string of poorly received and mostly direct-to-video movies, Liotta was in the strong cast of Andrew Dominik’s fine crime drama, Killing Them Softly (2012), starring Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, grossing $38 million globally.
Liotta joined Gina Gershon and Val Kilmer in the comedy thriller, Breathless (2012), and followed this with another crime movie, writer-director Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman (2012), starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, James Franco, and Chris Evans, and grossing only $4.6 million. One of the most successful movies of this period for Liotta was writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s drama, The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), with Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, and Mahershala Ali, more than tripling costs with a $47 million gross.
Liotta reunited with writer-director Nick Cassavetes for the twisted drama, Yellow (2012), with Heather Wahlquist, Riley Keough, Sienna Miller, and David Morse, and premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Liotta co-starred with Seth Green, Ashley Judd, Joe Pantoliano, and Blake Rayne in the musical drama, The Identical (2014), earning a disappointing $2.8 million box office return.
Ray Liotta was part of the massive cast of the Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez-directed box office bomb and the sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), and then worked with co-directors Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo in the Hong Kong-U.S. co-production, Revenge of the Green Dragons (2014), and executive-produced by Martin Scorsese. Liotta co-starred with Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Tim Blake Nelson in the Iran-Contra drama, Kill the Messenger (2014), grossing over $6 million. After the poorly-received Blackway (2015), which premiered at the Venice Film Festival as Go with Me and co-starring Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, and Hal Holbrook, Liotta joined Scorsese in the cast of the drama, Campus Code (2015), which was co-directed and produced by Scorsese’s daughter, Cathy Scorsese.
Ray Liotta starred in writer-director Amanda Sharp’s drama, Sticky Notes (2016), with Rose Leslie and Gina Rodriguez, premiering at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Liotta’s most significant movie during this period was his acclaimed supporting performance in Noah Baumbach’s drama, Marriage Story (2019), starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Julie Hagerty, all of whom shared the Robert Altman Award from the Independent Spirit Awards. Sopranos creator David Chase cast the Newark-born Liotta in his Sopranos prequel feature, The Many Saints of Newark (2021), starring Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, and Vera Farmiga, but the movie proved a disappointment with critics and audiences, earning only $13 million theatrically before HBO Max streaming.
Reflecting Liotta’s busy career, he had five features released posthumously, starting with Elizabeth Banks’ black comedy, Cocaine Bear (2023), in which Liotta co-starred with Alden Ehrenreich; writer-director Charlie Day’s satire, Fool’s Paradise (2023), with Day, Ken Jeong, Kate Beckinsale, Adrien Brody, Common, Jason Sudeikis, Edie Falco, and John Malkovich; writer-director Ariel Vromen’s Los Angeles Uprising drama, April 29, 1992 (date to be announced), with Tyrese Gibson and Scott Eastwood; and writer-director John Barr’s thriller, Dangerous Waters (date to be announced), with Saffron Burrows, in which Liotta was working when he died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic.
Ray Liotta was abandoned at a Newark, New Jersey orphanage after his birth, and adopted at six months by Mary (a township clerk) and Alfred (an auto parts store owner) Liotta, who raised him in Hoboken, New Jersey. Each parent ran unsuccessfully for local political office. Liotta’s sister, Linda, was also adopted. Investigating his birth parents, Liotta determined that they were of mainly Scottish descent, with a biological sister, a biological half-sister, and five biological half-brothers.
Liotta graduated from Union High School and then studied acting at the University of Miami, from which he graduated in 1978 with a BFA. Liotta was married to actor-producer Michelle Grace from 1997 to 2004; the couple had one daughter, Karsen. Liotta was engaged to marry Jacy Nittolo when he died in his sleep in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Liotta’s height was 5’ 11½”. Liotta’s estimated net worth was $14 million.
In His Honor: The U.K. band Linoleum recorded a song in Liotta’s honor, titled “Ray Liotta.”
Sinatra Issues: Liotta received a horse’s head in the mail from Nancy and Tina Sinatra, unhappy that while Liotta turned down their offer to play their late father in their produced Frank Sinatra biopic, he did subsequently play Sinatra in HBO’s 1998 The Rat Pack.
Jersey-ite: Ray Liotta was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in May 2017.