Ray Liotta, tough-guy star of 'Goodfellas' and 'Field of Dreams,' dies at 67

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Ray Liotta, who became a gangster-movie icon in "Goodfellas" and brought an old-time baseball legend back to life in "Field of Dreams," has died. He was 67.

His publicist, Jennifer Allen, confirmed to USA TODAY that Liotta died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic while filming the upcoming movie "Dangerous Waters." His fiancée, Jacy Nittolo, was on location with him.

An official at the Dominican Republic’s National Forensic Science Institute who was not authorized to speak to the media said Liotta's body was taken to the Cristo Redentor morgue.

Producers of "Dangerous Waters" mourned Liotta in a statement to USA TODAY: "We were deeply saddened to learn of Ray’s passing. It’s a tremendous loss and our heartfelt condolences go out to his family, fiancée Jacy and daughter Karsen."

Born in Newark, New Jersey, the actor had a breakthrough role in Martin Scorsese's mob classic "Goodfellas" playing real-life criminal Henry Hill opposite Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, and often was featured in crime films, including the recent "Sopranos" prequel "The Many Saints of Newark." In 2021, Liotta told USA TODAY that he turned down a part in the original HBO "Sopranos" show because "it just didn't feel right," though series creator David Chase said it was worth the wait to work with him.

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Ray Liotta, star of "Goodfellas" and "Field of Dreams," has died at 67.
Ray Liotta, star of "Goodfellas" and "Field of Dreams," has died at 67.

“Ray seems to be a rather quiet man,” Chase told USA TODAY. “But when the cameras roll, that electricity goes on and it's just mind-blowing.”

That film was part of a recent career resurgence that also found him playing supporting roles in Oscar best-picture nominee "Marriage Story," "No Sudden Move" and the Apple TV+ series "Black Bird."

Adopted at 6 months from an orphanage by a township clerk and an auto parts owner, Liotta grew up in New Jersey playing sports, including baseball. During his senior year of high school, a drama teacher asked him whether he wanted to be in a play. He’d go on to study acting at the University of Miami, and after graduation, he got his first break on the soap opera “Another World.”

"He was salt of the earth," said Steven Edwards, president of the New Jersey Hall of Fame. "When we were inducting him into the Hall of Fame, we were encouraging him to get some A-lister to induct him. Ray insisted that we get his childhood friend, Gene Laguna, who he played baseball with."

Liotta scored a Golden Globe nomination for playing Melanie Griffith's violent ex-con spouse in Jonathan Demme's 1986 action romance "Something Wild." In 1989's "Field of Dreams," he portrayed "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, a member of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox team who shows up as a ghost in the cornfield of an Iowa farmer (Kevin Costner).

'The Many Saints of Newark': Ray Liotta passed on 'Sopranos' but fought to play 'Hollywood Dick'

A year later, "Goodfellas" put Liotta on the map, and a string of memorable tough-guy roles followed, including "Cop Land" with De Niro and Sylvester Stallone; "Killing Them Softly" with Brad Pitt; and the TV series "Shades of Blue" with Jennifer Lopez. In 1998, he played Frank Sinatra in HBO's "The Rat Pack." Liotta earned an MTV Movie Award nod for best villain as the psychopathic cop in 1992's "Unlawful Entry," and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award co-starring as a police lieutenant in 2002's "Narc."

Liotta also found chances to send up his Hollywood image. He voiced the leader of a fishy street gang in an episode of "SpongeBob SquarePants," and in 2015 donned a white suit and gray goatee as Colonel Sanders in KFC commercials.

But whatever else he did, "Field of Dreams" and "Goodfellas" will remain at the top of the list.

"There are some movies you watch, and they go through you like Epsom salt," said Steven Gorelick, executive director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission. "You don't remember them the next day. Then there are the movies that stick with you forever, you remember them almost scene for scene.

"Those are both great movies. And he'll be missed."

Contributing: Bryan Alexander and Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY; Jim Beckerman, NorthJersey.com; and Lindsey Bahr and Martin Adames, The Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ray Liotta dies: 'Goodfellas,' 'Field of Dreams' star was 67