The actor Ray Liotta, who died suddenly today at age 67, may be best remembered for his leading role in Goodfellas. Playing mafioso Henry Hill, Liotta’s wry, first-person narration and wild-eyed performance made Martin Scorsese’s movie a classic of the mobster genre— and Goodfellas made Liotta a household name.
His initial breakthrough, though, came one year prior, in 1989, with Field of Dreams. As the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, it was Liotta who delivered the film’s iconic line: “If you build it, he will come.”
But Liotta also lent his characteristic intensity to many other roles over the years. From colorful cameos to creepy arcs, check out some of the late actor’s most epic — and underrated — moments.
‘Something Wild’ (1986)
Although Ray Liotta would not find A-list fame for a few more years, his turn as a crazed, abusive ex-husband in Something Wild earned the newcomer a Golden Globe nomination in 1987. (He lost to Tom Berenger for Platoon.) Pitted here against the leading lovers Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels, Liotta lent the unusual rom-com much of its memorable edge.
… And then there was the time Ray Liotta ate his own brain in Hannibal. In this 2001 sequel to Silence of the Lambs, Liotta joined Anthony Hopkins reprising his chilling role as Hannibal Lecter. Playing an imprisoned government official, Liotta’s character is forced to chow down on his own prefrontal lobe alongside Clarice Starling (played here by Julianne Moore, replacing Jodie Foster). “That smells great,” he remarks in a daze as Starling retches with disgust. Watch the video — eww.
‘Bee Movie’ (2008)
As a child, my first introduction to Ray Liotta came through his self-parody in this ridiculous children’s cartoon. In Bee Movie, Jerry Seinfeld plays a bee who files a class action lawsuit against the human race over the exploitation of bees. Playing himself, Liotta takes the stand — proudly clutching his 2005 Emmy for a guest spot on E.R. — to defend the extraction of bee honey for his own personal brand. As Liotta cackles with villainous glee, Seinfeld exclaims (in his unmistakably exasperated tone): “This isn’t a good fella! This is a bad fella!”
‘Marriage Story’ (2019)
Unsurprisingly, Ray Liotta makes an excellent divorce lawyer. Toeing the line between ferocious and hilariously frank, in Noah Baumbach’s 2019 hit Marriage Story, Liotta squares off against Laura Dern on the courtroom floor. And his representation costs $950 an hour. When asked in an interview about the inspiration behind his charged performance, Liotta responded simply: “I got divorced.”
‘The Many Saints of Newark’ (2021)
Ironically, Ray Liotta passed on a role in The Sopranos back in 2000. But since he could embody the mobster spirit like no other, it seems fitting that Liotta’s final roles came in the recent Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark. Yes, roles. Liotta played not one, but two characters in the HBO special. He portrayed both “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (the father of Sopranos fan favorite Christopher Moltisanti) as well as his brother Sal “Sally” Moltisanti, who is incarcerated throughout the film.
Even in this dimly lit jail scene, seen above, Liotta’s blue eyes sparkle with depth…
Rest in peace to a legend.