Paul Sorvino, an imposing actor who specialized in playing hoodlums and cops like Paulie Cicero in Goodfellas and NYPD Sergeant Phil Cerreta in Law & Order, has died. He was 83.
His publicist Roger Neal said he died of natural causes Monday morning at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. Sorvino had been dealing with health issues in recent years.
Mira Sorvino, his daughter, wrote a tribute on Twitter: “My father, the great Paul Sorvino, passed away. My heart is torn – a life full of love and joy and wisdom with him is over. He was the most wonderful father. I love him so much. Sending you love in the stars Dad as you ascend.”
Many responded to Mira Sorvino’s tweet with condolences and sympathy. Jane Lynch wrote: “Your father sang ‘Danny Boy’ to my Aunt Marge at the 2012 Chicago Film Critics Awards. We all cried.” Rob Reiner, who appeared in one of his father’s films with Sorvino, said he sends love. Lorraine Bracco tweeted two heartbroken emojis.
In his 50+ years in entertainment, Sorvino has been a mainstay in film and television, playing an Italian-American communist in Warren Beatty’s Reds, Henry Kissinger in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, and mob boss Eddie Valentine in The Rocketeer. He often said that while he was best known for playing gangsters (and his very good garlic chopping system), his true passions were poetry, painting and opera.
Sorvino was born in Brooklyn in 1939 to a piano teacher and a robe factory foreman. Sorvino was interested in music from an early age and attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, where he devoted himself to theater. He made his Broadway debut in 1964’s Bajour and made his film debut in Carl Reiner’s Where’s Papa? in 1970.
With his 6ft 4in stature, Sorvino made an impressive presence regardless of the medium. In the 1970s he starred opposite Al Pacino in The Panic in Needle Park and with James Caan in The Gambler, and teamed again with Reiner in Oh, God!. and was part of the cast in William Friedkin’s bank robbery comedy The Brink’s Job. In John G. Avildsen’s Rocky sequel, Slow Dancing in the Big City, Sorvino played a romantic lead, utilizing his dance training alongside professional ballerina Anne Ditchburn.
He was particularly prolific in the 1990s, earlier in the decade playing Lips in Beatty’s Dick Tracy and Paul Cicero in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, based on real-life gangster Paul Vario, and 31 episodes of Dick Wolf’s Law . & Command.” He followed with roles in The Rocketeer, The Firm, Nixon, which earned him a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet as Juliet’s father, Fulgencio Capulet. Beatty turned to Sorvino often, hiring him again for his 1998 political satire Bulworth and his 2016 Hollywood love letter Rules Don’t Apply.
Sorvino had three children from his first marriage, including Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino. He also directed and starred in a film written by his daughter Amanda Sorvino and co-starring his son Michael Sorvino.
Upon learning that Mira Sorvino had been among the women Harvey Weinstein allegedly sexually harassed and blacklisted amid the #MeToo billing, he told TMZ that if Weinstein had known, he “wouldn’t go.” would. He would be in a wheelchair.”
He was proud of his daughter and cried when she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Mighty Aphrodite in 1996. He told the Los Angeles Times That Evening that he didn’t have the words to express how he felt.
“They don’t exist in any language I’ve ever heard — well, maybe Italian,” he said.
But he wanted to be seen for more than what he was on screen and took particular pride in his singing. In 1996, “Paul Sorvino: An Evening of Song” was televised as part of a PBS fundraiser. Songs performed included “Torna A Sorriento”, “Guaglione”, “O Sole Mio”, “The Impossible Dream” and “Mama”.
“I’m a pop singer in the Mario Lanza sense,” Sorvino said in an interview with the Tampa Tribune. “It amazes me that no American singer sings in his full voice anymore. Where have all the tenors gone?”
The weight of his voice, he thought, made training difficult.
“It’s like trying to park a bus in a VW lot,” he said.
He also ran a horse rescue in Pennsylvania, had a grocery store pasta sauce line based on his mother’s recipe, and created a bronze statue of the late playwright Jason Miller, who lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Sorvino starred on Broadway in Miller’s Tony- and Pulitzer-winning 1972 play That Championship Season, which also earned him a Tony nomination, and its film adaptation.
In 2014 he married political expert Dee Dee Benkie and said a goal in his later life was “to rid people of the idea that I’m a slow, lumbering thug”.
“Our hearts are broken there will never be another Paul Sorvino, he was the love of my life and one of the greatest performers to ever appear on screen and on stage,” his wife said in a statement. She was by his side when he died.
As with most who starred in “Goodfellas,” the image would follow him for the rest of his life, about which he had complex feelings.
“Most people think I’m either a gangster or a cop or something,” he said. “The reality is I’m a sculptor, a painter, a best-selling author, many, many things – a poet, an opera singer, but none of them are gangsters… It would be nice to have my legacy more than that of a tough guy.”
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