Paul Sorvino, a towering actor specializing in the role of crooks and cops like Paulie Cicero in “Goodfellas” and NYPD Sergeant Phil Cerreta in “Law & Order,” has died. He was 83 years old.
His publicist Roger Neal said he died Monday morning of natural causes at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Sorvino had dealt with health issues for the past few years.
“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 grace the screen and the stage,” his wife said, Dee Dee Sorvino, in a statement.
During his more than 50 years in the entertainment business, Sorvino has been a mainstay of film and television, portraying an Italian-American communist in At Warren Beatty’s “Reds”, Henry Kissinger in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” and mob boss Eddie Valentine in “The Rocketeer”.
He often said that although he was best known for playing gangsters, his real passions were poetry, painting and opera.
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Born in Brooklyn in 1939 to a mother who taught piano and a father a foreman in a dress factory, Sorvino was interested in music from an early age and attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. York where he fell in love with the theatre. He made his Broadway debut in 1964 in “Bajour” and his film debut in “Where’s Poppa?” by Carl Reiner. in 1970.
With his 6-foot-4 stature, Sorvino made an impactful presence no matter the medium. In the 1970s he played alongside Al Pacino in “The Panic in Needle Park” and with James Caan in “The Gambler”, re-teamed with Reiner in “Oh, My God!” and was part of the set of William Friedkin’s bank robbery comedy “The Brink’s Job”. In John G. Avildsen’s “Rocky” sequel, “Slow Dancing in the Big City,” Sorvino was able to play a romantic lead role and use his dance training opposite professional ballerina Anne Ditchburn.
He was particularly prolific in the 1990s, kicking off the decade playing Lips in Beatty’s “Dick Tracy” and Paul Cicero in by Martin Scorsese Goodfellas, which was based on real-life mobster Paul Vario, and 31 episodes of Dick Wolf’s Law & Order. He followed those 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.
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Beatty often turned to Sorvino, enlisting him again for his 1998 political satire “Bulworth” and his 2016 Hollywood love letter “Rules Don’t Apply.” He also appeared in “The Immigrant” by James Gray.
Sorvino had three children from his first marriage, including the Oscar-winning actor Mira Sorvino. He also directed and starred in 2012’s “The Trouble with Cali”, a film written by her daughter Amanda Sorvino and starring her son Michael Sorvino.
When he learned that his daughter Mira was among the women allegedly sexually harassed and blacklisted by Harvey Weinstein in the middle of the #MeToo account, he told TMZ that if he had known, Weinstein, “wouldn’t walk. He would be in a wheelchair.”
He was proud of his daughter and wept when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for ‘Mighty Aphrodite’ in 1996. He told the Los Angeles Times that night that he had no no words to express how he felt.
“They don’t exist in any language I’ve ever heard – well, maybe Italian,” he said.
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Mira Sorvino took to Twitter on Monday to mourn the loss of his father.
“My father, the great Paul Sorvino, has passed away,” she wrote. “My heart is torn – a lifetime of love, joy and wisdom with him is over. He was the most wonderful father. I love him so much. Sending you love to the stars daddy as you ride.”
Sorvino wanted to be seen more than he was on screen and took particular pride in his singing. In 1996, “Paul Sorvino: An Evening of Song” aired on television as part of a PBS fundraising campaign. Songs performed included ‘Torna A Surriento’, ‘Guaglione’, ‘O Sole Mio’, ‘The Impossible Dream’ and ‘Mama’.
“I’m a pop singer in the sense that Mario Lanza was,” Sorvino said in an interview with The Tampa Tribune. “It amazes me that no American singer sings out loud 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 parking spot,” he said.
He also ran a horse rescue in Pennsylvania, had a grocery store pasta sauce line based on his mother’s recipe, and sculpted a bronze statue of the late playwright Jason Miller who resides in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Sorvino had starred in Miller’s Tony and Pulitzer-winning play “That Championship Season” on Broadway in 1972 and its film adaptation.
In 2014 he married political pundit Dee Dee Benkie and said one of his later life goals was to “disabuse people of the idea that I’m a slow, heavy-lidded thug”. As with most who starred in “Goodfellas”, the image would follow him for the rest of his life for which he had complex feelings.
“Most people think I’m either a gangster or a cop or something,” Sorvino said. “The reality is that 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 to have my legacy more than just a badass.
Stars pay tribute to Sorvino: ‘Another really good guy is gone’
The fellow Sorvino actors took to Twitter on Thursday to honor his legacy, sharing memories of times working with Sorvino as well as clips from some of his iconic scenes.
“From Baker’s Wife on Bway to Shakespeare in the Park to all the amazing roles in film and television, he was magnificent in everything.” wrote Jason Alexander. “Blessings to his friends and family.”
Viola Davis reminded Sorvino as “a memorable great actor”.
“It was very special to be able to sit quietly with the great Paul Sorvino, talking through the games of life”, wrote Whitaker Forest. “I send much comfort and love to his family, and I wish them all eternal blessings, love and light.”
“Another very good guy is gone” wrote Cary Elwes. “A fond farewell to the great Paul Sorvino. Thank you for your immense talent. Our deepest condolences to @MiraSorvino and his family.”