Family & Companions
After years of struggling as a professional musician and comedy performer, actor Joe Pesci was vaulted into the limelight thanks to his Academy Award-nominated performance in director Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" (1980), starring Oscar-winner Robert De Niro. The film marked the first of several successful collaborations between Pesci, De Niro and Scorsese over the years. Though he settled into a few rather forgettable roles following his initial triumph, Pesci re-emerged later in the decade with several unforgettable performances, starting with his comic turn as mob accountant-turned-state's witness Leo Getz in "Lethal Weapon 2" (1989), a role he reprised for the third and fourth installments to the franchise. But it was his portrayal of an uncontrollably violent mobster rising up the ranks in Scorsese's brilliant crime saga, "Goodfellas" (1990) that it became his defining role. So good was Pesci that he even eclipsed De Niro in critical plaudits and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Pesci next rose above a large ensemble cast to play alleged assassination conspirator David Ferrie in Oliver Stone's "JFK" (1991), which he followed with a rare starring turn in "My Cousin Vinny" (1992). Following another collaboration with De Niro and Scorsese in "Casino" (1995), he stumbled with such duds as "Gone Fishin'" (1997) and "8 Heads in a Duffel Bag" (1997), which precipitated a surprise retirement from acting in 1999 in order for him to concentrate on music. With a cameo in De Niro's "The Good Shepherd" (2006) and a starring role in "Love Ranch" (2010), Pesci was poised to once again rise to Hollywood prominence.
Born on Feb. 9, 1943 in Newark, NJ, Pesci was raised by his mother, Mary, and his father, Angelo, who worked three jobs - a forklift driver for General Motors by day; for Anheuser-Busch at night, as well as occasional bartending - in order to pay for his son's acting, singing, guitar and tap dancing lessons. In fact, Pesci and his two siblings were pushed into performing by their father, who saw show business as a means of escape from a working class life. He was performing in Broadway and Eddie Dowling plays at five years old, and by the time he was 10, Pesci had a regular gig on the children's variety show, "Star Time Kids." In the late 1950s, he began taking a greater interest in music, wanting to be a jazz singer like legend Jimmy Scott, whom Pesci followed and befriended while the singer played in and around Newark. A few years later, he started playing guitar with Joey Dee and the Starliters, just a couple of years before an unknown Jimi Hendrix - then billed as Jimmy James - joined the band. Meanwhile, Pesci made his film debut as an extra in the Joey Dee film, "Hey, Let's Twist!" (1961), and followed by cutting his own album, Little Joe Sure Can Sing, under the name Joe Ritchie.
Later on in the decade, Pesci began singing with Frank Vincent and the Aristocrats, and formed a comedy duo with Vincent in 1969. The pair eventually made it to Broadway with their comedy show, "The New Vaudevillians," only to see it close after a week. After performing in regional theater, Pesci made his feature film debut as an actor in the low-budget crime thriller, "The Death Collector" (1976), playing a mob debt collector who tries to prevent a New Jersey street kid (Joseph Cortese) from leaving the life. But Pesci failed to continue his acting ambitions in the late 1970s, struggling mightily to find work. He left the East Coast and headed to Las Vegas, where he worked feverishly as a ditch digger for $15 a day, only to return home upon discovering that his father was dying. For the next three years, he managed an Italian restaurant on 187th Street in the Bronx called Amici's and living in the apartment upstairs.
With his life at its lowest point, Pesci was lifted up after receiving a phone call from Robert De Niro, who said that he and director Martin Scorsese had seen his performance in "The Death Collector" and wondered if he would consider playing a supporting role in their next movie. That film was "Raging Bull" (1980). As the levelheaded Joey LaMotta, brother to unhinged boxer Jake LaMotta (De Niro), Pesci delivered a career-making performance that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. While his career should have taken off after the triumph, Pesci all but disappeared into a series of character turns in uneven art films like Nicolas Roeg's "Eureka" (1983), foreign movies like "Tutti Dentro" ("Put 'Em All in Jail") (1984), and undistinguished genre movies like the Rodney Dangerfield comedy vehicle, "Easy Money" (1983). He did have a couple of bright spots, including a starring role in the offbeat "Dear Mr. Wonderful" (1982), a West German production that was film in New Jersey, and a colorful performance as an Italian mobster opposite De Niro's Jewish gangster in Sergio Leone's epic five-and-a-half hour crime saga, "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984).
During this fallow period, Pesci tried his hand at television, starring as Beverly Hills private detective Rocky Nelson, protagonist of the short-lived detective comedy "Half-Nelson" (NBC, 1985). He achieved far greater screen success playing the evil drug lord Mr. Big in "Moonwalker" (1988), Michael Jackson's lavish and hugely successful music video masquerading as a 90-minute film. The following year, Pesci's feature career was back on track with "Lethal Weapon 2" (1989), in which he provided scene-stealing comic relief as fast-talking accountant, Leo Getz, who earns police protection from Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Riggs (Mel Gibson) after embezzling big bucks in mob drug money. He reached new heights of fame - not to mention an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor - for his explosively violent, but humorous portrayal of mobster Tommy DeVito in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" (1990). In a film dominated by powerful performances from De Niro and Ray Liotta, Pesci stood out from the pack as the out-of-control Tommy, delivering the movie's most memorable scene when grilling mobster Henry Hill (Liotta) about whether or not he thinks he's funny. A triumph on all levels, "Goodfellas" was a high watermark for all involved, especially Pesci, who entered into his most fertile period as an actor.
Later that year, Pesci successfully shifted gears to slapstick comedy to play a bungling burglar victimized by a resourceful kid (Macaulay Culkin) in the surprise blockbuster, "Home Alone" (1990). Finally having become a bona fide movie star, Pesci regularly alternated between leads and showy character parts in high profile comedies, dramas and action films. In a performance that rivaled his from "Goodfellas," Pesci lit the screen on fire as the animated David Ferrie, one of the suspicious characters considered by New Orleans DA Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) to be a conspirator in the assassination of President Kennedy in Oliver Stone's excellent, but controversial docudrama, "JFK" (1991). Pesci as the tightly wound Ferrie delivered another standout performance, pushing aside a seemingly infinite amount of real and fictitious characters to turn in one of the film's most memorable portrayals. Also that year, he had his first starring role in a studio feature, playing a heartless slumlord in the rather limp comedy, "The Super" (1991), which he followed with reprisals of Leo Getz for "Lethal Weapon 3" (1992) and Harry, the bumbling thief in "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" (1992).
Though he was capable of high-caliber performances as a supporting actor, Pesci had difficulty doing the same in a leading man capacity. That changed when he starred in "My Cousin Vinny" (1992), in which he was perfectly cast as a brash, amateurish attorney from New York who is called down to Alabama by his cousin (Ralph Macchio) to defend him and his friend (Mitchell Whitfield) against bogus murder charges. From there, Pesci went into a bit of a career slide following his portrayal of a 1940s-era crime photographer in the underperforming crime thriller, "The Public Eye" (1992). After a supporting role in Robert De Niro's directorial debut, "A Bronx Tale" (1993), he played an unemployed actor-turned-crime-fighting activist in the failed social satire, "Jimmy Hollywood" (1994), which he followed with an admirable performance as a wily, but good-hearted homeless man who teaches some life lessons to a group of Harvard undergrads (Brandon Fraiser and Patrick Dempsey) in "With Honors" (1994).
Pesci managed to lift himself from his career slump by reuniting with De Niro and Scorsese for "Casino" (1995), the director's look at the inner workings of a corrupt casino run by a bookmaking genius (De Niro). Pesci played a loose cannon Mafia boss not unlike his character from "Goodfellas," while the film itself explored much of the same thematic ground as their previous film, leaving some fans cold. Returning to comedy, Pesci co-starred opposite Danny Glover in the stinker "Gone Fishin'" (1997), which proved embarrassing to both actors for its distinct lack of laughs while being panned by both critics and audiences. His funny performance failed to save the otherwise dismal comedy "8 Heads in a Duffel Bag" (1997), which went on to become the biggest box office flop of his career. Following a third performance as Leo Getz for "Lethal Weapon 4" (1998), Pesci retired from acting to concentrate once again on music. He released the album Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You (1998), which failed to make much of a dent on the Billboard charts. Meanwhile, he settled into a quiet life, though his ex-wife, Martha Haro, made news when her new ex-husband, stuntman Garrett Warren, was shot and wounded in a gangland-style hit. She was arrested later in the decade for conspiracy and attempted murder. After years away from the big screen - with some members of the press and his curious fans wondering if the actor was perhaps sick and/or dying - Pesci eventually returned to acting with a cameo role in Robert De Niro's second directing effort, "The Good Shepherd" (2006), which he followed with a starring turn opposite Helen Mirren in the character drama, "Love Ranch" (2010), directed by Taylor Hackford.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Became a regular on TV's "Star Time" (Dumont) doing impersonations and singing
First film appearance as an extra in Joey Dee film, "Hey, Let's Twist!"
Film acting debut (also co-wrote) in "Death Collector," a low budget gangster yarn
Moved to L.A.; held a variety of odd jobs as a barber, a postal clerk, a produce manager in a grocery story, a delivery boy, a letter carrier and drove a pickup truck (date approximate)
Was managing a restaurant in the Bronx when called by Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese who had seen his work in "Death Collector" to play Jake LaMotta's brother in "Raging Bull"
First feature starring role, "Dear Mr. Wonderful" a German production directed by Peter Lilienthal
Starred as a private investigator in his own short-lived TV series, "Half-Nelson"
Cast as Leo Getz in "Lethal Weapon 2" starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover
Reunited with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro to star in "Goodfellas"
Starred opposite Macaulay Culkin in the comedy "Home Alone"
First Hollywood starring role, "The Super"
Starred in Oliver Stone's controversal film "JFK"
Played Brooklyn Lawyer Vincent Gambini in the comedy "My Cousin Vinny" also starring Marisa Tomei
Reprised the role of Leo Getz for "Lethal Weapon 3"
Co-starred in the drama "A Bronx Tale" with Chazz Palminteri and Robert De Niro who also directed
Co-starred with Brendan Fraser in "With Honors"
Again reunited with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro for "Casino"
Co-starred with Danny Glover in the comedy "Gone Fishin"
Reprised role of Leo Getz for "Lethal Weapon 4"
Released an album, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, which spawned the single "Wise Guy"
Announced retirement from acting
Returned to acting with a cameo in De Niro's "The Good Shepherd"
Co-starred opposite Helen Mirren in "Love Ranch," based on the true story of a married couple who opened the first legal brothel in Nevada