So authentic was his portrayal of Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero on the groundbreaking family crime drama "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1998-2007), that it was easy to dismiss Vincent Pastore's work on the series as not so much acting, but rather as someone merely playing themselves. For someone who came to his chosen profession late in life, Pastore demonstrated a surprising range when given the chance, as well as a dedication to the craft. A former New York nightclub owner, he was urged to take up acting by famous brothers and club frequenters Matt and Kevin Dillon. Pastore landed a substantial early role in the indie film "True Love" (1989), but was able to parlay the break into little more than extra work and bit parts in films like "GoodFellas" (1990) and "Carlito's Way" (1993). He made more headway with mob roles on television projects like "Gotti" (HBO, 1996) and "Mario Puzo's 'The Last Don'" (NBC, 1997), before landing the job of a lifetime as "Big Pussy" on the "Sopranos." Although his character did not survive beyond the series' second season, Pastore had secured himself a spot in the pantheon of Hollywood tough guys, going on to appear in dozens of films and television series over the next decade and remaining a constant media presence long after the Soprano family had shared their last meal.
Born on July 14, 1946 in the borough of The Bronx, NY, Vincent "Vinnie" Pastore grew up in the town of New Rochelle, NY, the son of hardworking Italian-American parents. Although he had dabbled in acting during his three years as a student at Pace University, Pastore did not become serious about the craft until he was encouraged by actors Matt and Kevin Dillon, friends and patrons of the club Pastore owned in New Rochelle. After meeting Kevin's manager he was soon pursuing the business in earnest, taking parts in small theater productions, and landing a role in the low-budget horror flick "Black Roses" (1988). Pastore thought he had truly arrived when his second film, Nancy Savoca's "True Love" (1989), won the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize. Unfortunately, all that followed was sporadic extra work, with barely noticeable appearances in Martin Scorsese's watershed gangster epic "GoodFellas" (1990) and the Robin Williams vehicle "Awakenings" (1990). Pastore next landed a brief role in Ted Demme's short film "The Bet" (1992), as well as the director's next full-length feature, the urban comedy "Who's the Man?" (1993). Still little more than an extra, Pastore was at least keeping good company with spots in films like "Carlito's Way" (1993), starring Al Pacino and Sean Penn. There was also a small role in "The Ref" (1994), but Pastore credited the cult comedy "The Jerky Boys" (1995) with being the first film to give him a more substantial part, opposite mob boss Alan Arkin.
Although he was still picking up tiny roles - like a construction worker in the early Leonardo DiCaprio starrer "The Basketball Diaries" (1995), a delusional patient in the romantic comedy "Walking and Talking" (1996), or an apartment broker in "Joe's Apartment" (1996) - Pastore was also becoming a member in good standing of what was affectionately known as the "Gangsters Actors Guild." He played a mobster in the orbit of John Gotti in the made-for-cable biopic "Gotti" (HBO, 1996), and had a similar role in the miniseries about Sammy Gravano, "Witness to the Mob" (NBC, 1998). A vote of confidence in his abilities came with four separate appearances in the mid-'90s on the long-running procedural "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010), and a noteworthy role in another Mafia miniseries, "Mario Puzo's 'The Last Don'" (NBC, 1997). All this was a prelude to the project that would cement his status as a "made man" - the universally acclaimed cable series "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1998-2007). Pastore's character of Salvatore 'Big Pussy' Bonpensiero - Tony Soprano's right-hand man, trusted confidant, and ultimately, his betrayer - provided the Shakespearian-esque crime drama one of its most tragic storylines. Watching Sal become increasingly isolated as he lived the life of mob lieutenant and FBI informant, moving inexorably toward a violent end, was truly heart-wrenching for fans of the show. Pastore was on the series for a mere two seasons; however, his sincere performance as the conflicted character reverberated throughout the series over its entire run.
With the massive exposure provided by "The Sopranos," suddenly Pastore was everywhere, portraying a goofy gangster in "Mickey Blue Eyes" (1999), landing a part in Norman Jewison's boxing biopic "The Hurricane" (1999), starring Denzel Washington; and taking a turn in the John Favreau-directed comedy "Made" (2001). The husky tough guy even appeared in a high-profile Pepsi campaign, unwisely trying to pass off "garbage" as Pepsi to a little girl (Hallie Eisenberg) who channels Joe Pesci, Marlon Brando, and other classic capos, to frightening perfection. Continuing to work steadily post-"Sopranos," Pastore was seen in the hyperbolic '50s-era gang drama "Deuces Wild" (2002), starring pal Matt Dillon, and poked fun at his own persona in the raunchy "Baywatch" spoof "Son of the Beach" (FX, 199-2002), as the character Vinnie Fellachio. Among other projects, he made an appearance in the tepid Elizabeth Hurly-Matthew Perry comedy "Serving Sara" (2002), before his year-long turn as Arthur "Rack 'Em Up" Ross on the enduring daytime soap "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1967-2012) for the 2003-04 season. The distinctive New York-accented actor also lent his voice to the DreamWorks' animated film "Shark Tale" (2004) as the fishy wiseguy, Luca. Additionally, Pastore had recurring roles on various episodic television series, such as the courtroom melodrama "The Practice" (ABC, 1996-2004).
In 2005, Pastore's personal life made the headlines when he was arrested for assaulting his fiancée, actress-director Lisa Regina, in Little Italy. In September of that year, Pastore plead guilty and agreed to perform community service. Although no longer the ubiquitous presence he had been a few years earlier, Pastore continued to work continuously in low-budget features, with guest spots on television series, as well as reality television programs. In 2006, Pastore joined the cast of negligible notables on "Celebrity Fit Club" (VH1, 2004-10), where he lost nearly 30 pounds. For its fourth season in 2007, "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ) announced that the recently slimmed down Pastore would be on its celebrity roster. However, after fully grasping the grueling physical requirements of the show, the imposing actor dropped out after the first week of rehearsals. That same year, the long-delayed Guy Ritchie gangster film "Revolver" (2007) finally saw its release. Sadly for Pastore, it was not the high-profile project he had hoped for, receiving little notice. Taking another stab at the reality show circuit, he turned up next on the celebrity version of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ). In classic wiseguy fashion, Pastore played both sides against the middle, then caused a minor scandal when he quit before Trump had a chance to fire him.
In 2008, Pastore returned to daytime television with a run on another soap opera - "General Hospital" (ABC, 1963- ) - in a recurring role as yet another mob boss, Maximus Giambetti. He also joined the cast of "Return to Sleepaway Camp" (2008), a sequel to the truly bizarre 1983 slasher movie. Further expanding his horizons, Pastore was also the host of his own radio program, fittingly titled "The Wiseguy Show," on Sirius satellite radio. Billed as a "weekly three-hour celebration of Italian-American culture," the freewheeling show was co-produced by fellow "Sopranos" alum, "Little" Steven Van Zandt. Among other projects, Pastore rounded out the decade with a supporting role in the coming out comedy "Oy Vey! My Son is Gay" (2009), and provided vocals on the tween comedy series "Pair of Kings" (Disney XD, 2010-13), as the voice of Yamakoshi, a century-old talking fish.
By Bryce Coleman
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Credited as Vinny Pastore in Nancy Savoca's "True Love"
Acted in two movies starring Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese's "GoodFellas" and Penny Marshall's "Awakenings"; credited for both as Vinny Pastore
First of four appearances on NBC's "Law & Order", playing Dominick in "Wedded Bliss" episode
First association with director Ted Demme, "The Bet"
Played Tony 'Clams' Como in Demme's feature directorial debut, "Who's the Man?"
Acted in Brian De Palma's "Carlito's Way"
Appeared as a State Trooper in Demme's "The Ref"; first feature credit as Vincent Pastore
Breakthrough film, "The Jerky Boys" opposite Alan Arkin
Portrayed Angelo Ruggiero in HBO movie "Gotti"
Acted with future "Sopranos" co-stars Tony Sirico and Michael Imperioli in John Andrew Gallagher's "The Deli"
Appeared in CBS miniseries, "Mario Puzo's The Last Don"
Played Mikey DeBatt in NBC miniseries, "Witness to the Mob"
Acted in the TV-movie "A Slight Case of Murder" (TNT), starring William H Macy and Felicity Huffman
Appeared in Norman Jewison's "The Hurricane"
Played a funny mobster named Al in "Mickey Blue Eyes", opposite James Caan
Portrayed 'Big Pussy' Bompensiero, the right-hand man and confidant of Tony Soprano in HBO's acclaimed cult mob series, "The Sopranos"; character was killed in the second season
Reteamed with Gallagher for "Blue Moon"
Cast as Tony in the feature comedy "Servicing Sara"
Along with Frank Vincent, co-starred in the mafia feature "This Thing Of Ours"
Guest starred as an attorney on ABC's "The Practice"
Voiced Luca in the animated feature "Shark Tale"
Cast in "Revolver," written and directed by Guy Ritchie (released theatrically in 2007)
Appeared on the fourth season of the VH1 reality show "Celebrity Fit Club"
Signed on for the fourth season of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC), withdrew from the competition after only one week, after finding the necessary training and preparation too physically demanding; replaced by actor John Ratzenberger