Liotta was born on December 18, 1954, to an Italian father and a Scottish-Irish mother. He was abandoned at an orphanage, and was later adopted when he was six months old by Mary and Alfred Liotta.
He attended college at the University of Miami, and took up drama out of boredom, according to Lifetime TV. Liotta bagged parts in stage productions such as Cabaret, West Side Story, and The Sound of Music. He moved to New York after graduating with a major in theatre.
A few months after his arrival in New York, Liotta landed a role in Joey Perrini’s long-running soap opera Another World, in which he appeared from 1978 to 1981.
After playing small roles in television films, Liotta made his big screen debut with The Lonely Lady in 1983. His first major acting role was in Something Wild (1986) and it earned him a Golden Globe nomination in the best supporting actor category.
In 1990, Liotta essayed the role of the gangster Henry Hill in Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film Goodfellas. He prepared for the role by spending time with the real Henry Hill and by listening to tapes of the FBI investigation of him and others.
Liotta went on to feature in films like Unlawful Entry (1992), Corrina (1994), and Cop Land (1997), among others.
In the 2000s, Liotta appeared in Hannibal (2001), Narc (2002), and Battle in Seattle (2007). More recently, he starred in the critically-acclaimed film Marriage Story (2019), which featured Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in the lead.
Liotta has also appeared in prominent television shows such as Shades of Blue (alongside Jennifer Lopez), an episode of Modern Family, The Simpsons, and Hanna.
Lopez was among the many who paid tribute to Liotta on social media. She wrote, “Ray was my partner in crime on Shades of Blue. The first thing that comes to mind is he was so kind to my children. Ray was the epitome of a tough guy who was all mushy on the inside. I guess that’s what made him such a compelling actor to watch. The original Goodfella.”
She added, “Like all artists he was complicated, sincere, honest and so very emotional.”
Lorraine Bracco, his co-star in Goodfellas, took to social media and wrote, “I am utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be anywhere in the world and people will come up and tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. Then they always ask what was the best part of making that movie. My response has always been the same, Ray Liotta.”
Actor Robert DeNiro, who also co-starred with Liotta in Goodfellas, said in a statement to the media, “I was very saddened to learn of Ray’s passing. He is way too way young to have left us. May he rest in peace.”
Scorsese, in his statement to the media, spoke about Liotta’s performance in Goodfellas and said he was “courageous as an actor.”
“Playing Henry Hill in Goodfellas was a tall order, because the character had so many different facets, so many complicated layers, and Ray was in almost every scene of a long, tough shoot. He absolutely amazed me, and I’ll always be proud of the work we did together on that picture,” the famed filmmaker added.
Liotta is survived by his daughter Karse and his fiancée Jacy Nittolo.