Paul Sorvino, leader of moderate gangs, dies at 83

Paul Sorvino, the powerful actor – and operatic singer and pictorial sculptor – known for his roles as quiet and often quiet but dangerous men in films like “Goodfellas” and TV shows like “Law & Order,” died Monday. He was 83 years old.

His publicist, Roger Neal, confirmed the death, at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. No specific reason was given, but Mr Neal said Mr Sorvino had “dealed with health issues over the past few years.”

Mr. Sorvino is the father of Mira Sorvino, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite (1995). In her acceptance speech, she said her father “taught me everything I know about acting.”

“Goodfellas” (1990), Martin Scorsese’s famous mafia epic, came about when Mr. Sorvino was in his fifties and decades into his film career. His character, Paulie Cicero, was a local mob boss – sluggish, soft-spoken, and icy cold.

“Polly may have moved slowly,” says Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, the stepdaughter of his neighborhood in the film, “but that was only because he didn’t have to move for no one.” (Mr. Liotta died in May 67.)

Mr. Sorvino nearly ditched the role because he couldn’t fully emotionally connect, told comedian Jon Stewart, who interviewed a panel of “Goodfellas” alumni at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. When you “find the backbone” of a character, Mr. Sorvino said. Ma, “She makes all the decisions for you.”

He remembers that it was only one day when he was adjusting his tie, looked in the mirror and saw something in his eyes. When he saw what he called “this murderous Polly look,” Mr. Sorvino told The Lowcountry Weekly, a South Carolina publication, in 2019, “I knew at that moment that I had embraced the inner mob boss.”

He made his mark on stage as a completely different but perhaps soulless character in “Championship Season” (1972), Jason Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tragicomedy about the heartbreaking reunion of high school basketball players whose glory days have passed decades. In the original Broadway production, Mr. Sorvino played Phil Romano, a small-town mining millionaire who has an affair with the mayor’s wife.

Mr. Sorvino earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play and reprized the role in a 1982 film adaptation.

Paul Anthony Sorvino was born on April 13, 1939, in Brooklyn, the youngest of three sons of Fortunato Sorvino, better known as Ford, and Marietta (Renzi) Sorvino, a housewife and piano teacher. Mr. Sorvino the Elder, a foreman in a garment factory, was born in Naples, Italy and immigrated to New York with his parents in 1907.

Paul was raised in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn and attended Lafayette High School. His original dream career was to sing – he was in love with Italian-American singer and actor Mario Lanza – and he started taking vocal lessons when he was eight or so.

In the late 1950s, he began performing at Catskills resorts and charity events. In 1963, he was awarded the Actors Equity Card as a member of the choir on “South Pacific” and “Student Prince” at the theater on Westbury on Long Island. In the same year, he began studying drama at the American Academy of Music and Drama in New York.

Acting jobs were out of reach. Mr. Sorvino’s Broadway debut, in the chorus of the musical Bajor (1964), lasted for nearly seven months, but his next show, the comedy Mating Dance (1965), starring Van Johnson, wrapped up on opening night.

Mr. Sorvino worked as a waiter and waiter, sold cars, taught acting to children, and appeared in commercials for deodorant and tomato sauce. After the birth of his first child, Mira, he wrote ad copy for nine months, but the desk job left him sore.

He told the New York Times in 1972. “Most of the time I was just another actor out of work who couldn’t be caught.” I don’t know him.”

Then his luck changed. He made his debut in “Where’s Poppa?” (1970), a black comedy directed by Karl Reiner, in a small role as a retired homeowner. Then came “This Season of Championships,” starting with an off-Broadway production at the Public Theater.

The film role that initially garnered much attention was that of Joseph Bologna’s grouchy Italian father in Made for Each Other (1971). Mr. Sorvino, who is almost five years younger than him, wore aging makeup for the role.

He then appeared as a New Yorker who was robbed by a prostitute In “The Panic in Needle Park” (1972), he did not immediately fall victim to the stereotype of police and gangsters. In 1973, George Segal’s boyfriend was the movie producer on “A Touch of Class” and a mysterious government agent on “The Day of the Dolphin”.

Mr. Sorvino later played a selfish, money-hungry missionary with a Southern accent in the comedy Oh My God! (1977) and God Himself in “Devil’s Carnival” (2012) and its 2015 sequel. He was a real-life reporter who loved the ballerina in “Slow Dance in the Big City” (1978). In Reds (1981), he was an ardent Russian American communist leader before the Bolshevik Revolution.

It was Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, complete with a German accent, in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” (1995). He played Fulgencio Capulet, Juliet’s spirited father with an old grudge, in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” (1996).

But during half a century of work on screen, Mr. Sorvino’s characters have often been on the wrong side of the law. He played, among others, Xabi De Coco (“Bloodbrothers,” 1978), Lips Manlis (“Dick Tracy,” 1980), Big Mike Cicero (“How Sweet It Is,” 2013), and Jimmy Scambino (” Sicilian Vampire,” 2015) and Tony Salerno’s death (“Kill the Irishman,” 2011).

And in at least 20 roles, he has played law officers with titles such as Detective, Captain, or Commander. For one season (1991-1992), he was Sgt. Phil Cerreta on NBC’s Law & Order, but he found the filming schedule very demanding — and difficult on his voice.

Mr. Sorvino continued to sing professionally, making his debut in Frank Loser’s city opera “Happiest Fella” in 2006.

His personal life sometimes reinforced his strong image. More recently, in 2018, when movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was on trial for criminal sexual acts — and Mira Sorvino accused him of harassment — Mr. Sorvino predicted that Mr. Weinstein would die in prison. “Because if not, he has to meet me, and I will kill [expletive deleted] Mr. Sorvino said in a widely broadcast video interview.

Four months later, Mr. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Mr. Sorvino’s last on-screen roles were in 2019. He played a corrupt senator in Welcome to Acapulco, a spy comedy film, and crime boss Frank Costello in the Epix series The Godfather of Harlem.

He married actress Lauren Davis in 1966, and they had three children before divorcing in 1988. Mr. Sorvino’s second wife, from 1991 until their 1996 divorce, was Vanessa Arico, a real estate agent. He married Dee Dee Pinky, a Republican political strategist, in 2014.

Mr. Sorvino began making bronze sculptures in the 1970s and considered his non-performing artwork to be particularly satisfactory. “That’s why I prefer it, nobody really tells you how to finish something,” he told The Sun-Sentinel, a Florida newspaper, in 2005.

He said, “Acting on stage is like sculpting.” “Acting in films is like being an assistant to a sculptor.”

Mr. Sorvino is survived by his wife Dee di Sorvino; three children, Mira, Amanda, and Michael; and five grandchildren.

Johnny Diaz Contribute to the preparation of reports.

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