Paul Sorvino, the imposing actor who specializes in playing crooks and cops as Paulie Cicero in “Goodfellas” and NYPD Sergeant Phil Cerreta in “Law & Order” has died. He was 83 years old.
Publicity agent Roger Neal said he died Monday morning of natural causes at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Sorvino has dealt with health issues over the past few years.
His daughter, Mira Sorvino, wrote a tribute on Twitter: “My great father Paul Sorvino has died. My heart is torn – a life of love, joy and wisdom ended with him. He was the most wonderful father. I love him so much. I send you love in the stars, dad, as you ascend.”
Many responded to Mira Sorvino’s tweet with condolences and sympathy. Jane Lynch wrote: “Your dad Danny Boy to 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 was sending love. Lauren Bracco tweeted two broken heart emojis.
During his more than 50 years working in entertainment, Sorvino has been a mainstay in film and television, playing Italian-American communist in Warren Beatty’s “Reds”, Henry Kissinger in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” and gang boss Eddie Valentine in “The Rocketer.” . He would often say that although he might be known for playing gangsters (and his very good system for chopping garlic) his true passions were poetry, painting, and opera.
Born in Brooklyn in 1939 to a mother who taught piano and a father who worked as a foreman in a robe factory, Sorvino was into music from a young age and attended the American Academy of Music and Drama in New York where he fell into the theater. He made his Broadway debut in 1964 in the movie “Bajor” and made his debut in “Where’s Bubba” by Karl Reiner? in 1970.
With his stature of 6 feet 4 inches, Sorvino had an influential presence no matter his medium. In the 1970s, he worked alongside Al Pacino in “The Panic in Needle Park” and with James Caan in The Gambler, and re-enacted with Reiner in “Oh, God!” He was among the members of William Friedkin’s bank robbery comedy The Brink’s Job. In John J. Avildsen’s follow-up to “Rocky” “Slow Dancing in the Big City”, Sorvino played a romantic and used his dance training opposite professional ballerina Anne Ditchburn.
He was particularly prolific in the 1990s, beginning the decade when Leps played Betty’s Dick Tracy and Paul Cicero in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” based on real-life gangster Paul Vario, and 31 episodes of “Law.” Your Wolf & Demand #%s.” These were followed by roles in “The Rocketeer,” “The Firm,” and “Nixon,” for which he received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, and Baz Luhrmann in “Romeo + Juliet” as Juliet’s father. Betty would turn to Sorvino often, and recruit him again for his political satire “Bulworth,” released in 1998, and Hollywood’s 2016 love letter “The 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, featuring his son, Michael Sorvino.
When he learned that Mira Sorvino was among the women allegedly sexually harassed and blacklisted by Harvey Weinstein in the midst of the #MeToo account, he told TMZ that if he knew Weinstein, “he wouldn’t walk. He would be in a wheelchair.”
He was proud of his daughter and cried when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite. in 1996. He told the Los Angeles Times that night 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 showing on screen and was particularly proud of his singing. In 1996, “Paul Sorvino: An Evening of Song” was broadcast on television as part of a PBS fundraising drive. Songs performed included “Torna A Sorrento”, “Guaglione”, “O Sole Mio”, “The Impossible Dream” and “Mama”.
“I’m a pop singer in the sense of Mario Lanza,” Sorvino said in an interview with the Tampa Tribune. “It amazes me that there is no longer an American singer who sings in full voice. Where have all the stretches gone?”
He thought that the heaviness of his voice made it difficult to train.
“It’s like trying to stop a bus in a Volkswagen parking lot,” he said.
He also performed a horse rescue in Pennsylvania, had a line of pasta sauce in a grocery store based on his mother’s recipe, and carved a bronze statue of the late playwright Jason Miller who resides in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Sorvino starred in Miller’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play “That Championship Season” on Broadway in 1972, for which it also earned a Tony nomination, as well as a film adaptation.
In 2014, he married political expert Dee Dee Pinky and said his later life goal was to “keep people away from the idea that I’m a slow-moving, heavy-eyed thug.”
“Our hearts are broken, and there will never be another Paul Sorvino, he was the love of my life, and one of the greatest artists who ever graced screen and stage,” his wife said in a statement. She was by his side when he died.
As with most of those who starred in Goodfellas, the image would follow him for the rest of his life that he had complicated feelings for him.
“Most people think I’m either a gangster or a cop or something,” he said. “The truth is that I am a sculptor, a painter, a famous author, many, many things – a poet, an opera singer, but none of them are a gangster… It would be nice to have a legacy of more than a strong man.”