R.I.P. Paul Sorvino from Goodfellas and Law & Order


Paul Sorvino

Paul Sorvino in 2010
Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Paul Sorvino, the intimidating tough-guy actor best known for playing mobsters and cops—but who prided himself on the times he was able to do anything else—has died. That comes from the Associated Press and was confirmed by his publicist, who said that he died this morning “of natural causes” in Indiana. Sorvino, who was in Goodfellas, Romeo + Juliet, and dozens of episodes of Law & Order, was 83.

Sorvino was born in Brooklyn in 1939 and attended a performing arts school, where he decided to become a theater actor. He made his Broadway debut in 1964 with Bajour and his film debut a few years later in Carl Reiner’s 1970 black comedy Where’s Poppa? with George Segal and Ruth Gordon. In 1972, a well-received performance in Jason Miller’s That Championship Season got Sorvino a gig in the movie adaptation (with everyone else in the original cast replaced by notable names like Martin Sheen, Bruce Dern, Robert Mitchum, and Stacy Keach).

Paulie Slaps Henry Hill – Goodfellas

He also appeared in cult horror film The Stuff and had a fruitful working relationship with Warren Beatty, appearing in Reds, Dick Tracy, Bulworth, and Rules Don’t Apply. His most high-profile film role, though, came from playing mob heavy Paul Cicero in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas—a role that, as is the case with most actors from Goodfellas, effectively defined the rest of his career.

Either you’re doing that, or you’re doing a response to that, whether it means playing against type or playing someone who is pointedly not a mobster, like a cop. Naturally, Sorvino followed Goodfellas with a two-season run on Law & Order, playing Sergeant Phil Cerreta for 31 episodes. Unfortunately, the character’s contribution to the Law & Order canon is mostly just notable for who replaced him: Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe, one of the most popular TV characters of all time.

Paul Sorvino had three children, including actors Michael and Mira Sorvino—with the latter memorably bringing her father to tears when she thanked him in her Oscars speech in 1996. The AP obituary also quotes Sorvino as saying that he always hoped he would be remembered as more than just a mobster, saying: “The reality is I’m a sculptor, a painter, a best-selling author, many, many thingsa poet, an opera singer, but none of them is gangster…. It would be nice to have my legacy be more than that of just tough guy.”

Mira Sorvino winning Best Supporting Actress


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