|December 18, 1954|
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Born on Dec. 18, 1954 in Newark, NJ, Liotta was raised in nearby Union by his adoptive parents, Alfred, an automotive parts store owner and unsuccessful candidate for local office, and Mary, a town clerk and also failed candidate for local office. A regular kid who actively sought to stay out of trouble, Liotta fell into acting in the sixth grade when he filled in for a classmate who became ill before a school play. Unable to play basketball for Union High School because of his short stature, he joined the drama club instead, which led to a full-blown head dive into acting while attending the University of Miami. After earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1978, Liotta moved to New York where, within three days, he landed his first professional job, pitching K-Tel Records "Love Songs of the 50s" in a television commercial. A couple of weeks later, he had a screen test for Robert Zemeckis' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" (1978), but failed to get the part. For the next six months, he bartended for the Shubert Organization theatres, then had his first breakthrough with a role on daytime television, playing Joey Perrini on "Another World" (NBC, 1964-1999).
After three years on "Another World," Liotta left for what he thought would be greener pastures, but instead found a barren period of struggling to find work. He did appear in two short-lived television series, "Casablanca" (NBC, 1982-83) and "Our Family Honor" (ABC, 1985-86), while on the big screen he had the dubious honor of being in the cast for "The Lonely Lady" (1983), an erotic thriller widely considered to be one of the all-time worst movies ever made. Liotta's career picked up steam in the mid-1980s with his performance as a violent ex-con in "Something Wild" (1986), Jonathan Demme's screwball romantic comedy that takes a left turn into psycho-thriller territory once Liotta's character enters the story. He next had a starring role in "Dominick and Eugene" (1988), playing an ambitious medical student who struggles to reconcile his future career with caring for his mentally challenged brother (Thomas Hulce). Liotta made a big impression in a minor role, playing baseball great Shoeless Joe Jackson, who is brought back from the dead alongside other old-time players when an Iowa farmer (Kevin Costner) seemingly goes off the deep end and builds a baseball field instead of planting corn in "Field of Dreams" (1989).
With his career finally on track, Liotta was bound to make his major breakthrough, which he did with a commanding performance in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" (1990). Based on real life events involving key figures in the Lucchese crime family, "Goodfellas" was a kinetic, but intimate look at the rise and fall of a fringe player in the Italian Mafia who allows himself to fall prey to vices while taking on increasingly risky ventures that eventually force him to turn on his partners in crime. Though most of the critical acclaim went to co-stars Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro for their larger-than-life performances, Liotta more than held his own playing real life mobster Henry Hill, a role he aggressively lobbied the studio for when they wanted a name actor. Liotta displayed a softer edge as a heart surgeon who leads a revolt against the Washington bureaucracy at a veterans' hospital in "Article 99" (1992), but reverted to playing a psychotic in the bad-cop thriller, "Unlawful Entry" (1992). He followed with performances as a testosterone-laden inmate of a futuristic penal colony in "No Escape" (1994), a by-the-book captain who must replace a Vietnamese village's elephant in Disney's "Operation Dumbo Drop" (1995) and an alcoholic medical examiner in the unmemorable "Unforgettable" (1996).
It was ironic that a man who appeared mostly in musicals in college had made his mark as a man of menace. His quieter work in movies like "Dominick and Eugene" and "Corrina, Corrina" (1994), as a widower who hires Whoopi Goldberg to help him take care of his daughter, failed to capture the public's interest. He returned to familiar terrain as the crazed serial killer of "Turbulence" (1997), then earned critical praise for his performance as a police officer who wrestles with his conscience in "Cop Land" (1997) before aligning himself with the right side of the law represented by Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone). He once again played a crooked cop seeking redemption in "Phoenix" (1998), but the made-for-cable movie "Rat Pack" (HBO, 1998) afforded him the opportunity to explore other aspects of his character as legendary crooner Frank Sinatra.
After a cameo as a security guard in the light-hearted, albeit cornball "Muppets From Space" (1999), Liotta played a chop-shop entrepreneur who gets hoodwinked by a mother-daughter scam artist team (Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt) in "Heartbreakers" (2001). In the noir thriller, "Inferno" (Cinemax, 2000), he was an amnesiac stranded in the desert who, after finding a bludgeoned corpse, discovers the true nature of his identity. Liotta then played a ruthless businessman who leaves a cabana boy (Joseph Fiennes) for dead after learning of an affair with his wife in "Forever Mine" (Starz!, 2000). In "Hannibal" (2001), he played the chauvinistic boss of Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), while in the fictional telling of true life events, "Blow" (2001), he was a construction worker who struggles to provide for his family, raising a son (Johnny Depp) who goes on to become one of the biggest suppliers of Columbian cocaine in America.
Liotta next played Henry Oak, a tough-guy cop who does what it takes to get a bust in "Narc" (2002), a grim and gritty indie feature from writer-director Joe Carnahan of "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane"(1997) fame. Paired off with a guilt-ridden cop (Jason Patric) given a reprieve after a police chase gone bad, Oak, whose partner was murdered, goes on a hunt through the mean streets of Detroit for the killer. "Narc" was shown at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, where it impressed Tom Cruise enough to prompt his company to buy the film for release through Paramount Pictures. Meanwhile, Liotta was nominated for a 2003 Spirit Award for Best Male Lead for his work in the film. In "John Q." (2002), he played a media-hungry police chief whose numerous medals shine brightly before the cameras while a factory worker without health insurance (Denzel Washington) holds a hospital emergency room hostage so he can get his 10-year-old son (Daniel E. Smith) a heart transplant.
For "Identity" (2003), Liotta once again played a cop on the edge; this time one who is transporting a prisoner (Jake Busey), but gets stuck with a diverse group of people at a rundown Nevada motel one dark and stormy night. The group is then systematically killed, leaving them to figure out why and, more importantly, what they all have in common with one another. After appearing in the Hollywood satire "The Last Shot" (2004), Liotta starred as an alcoholic ex-con who walks into the emergency room with delirium tremens on an experimental real-time episode of "ER" (NBC, 1994- ). He won the 2005 Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance. Back in the feature world, Liotta filmed a slew of independent films, including "Revolver" (2005), playing a crime boss who puts a hit out on a lucky, but terrible poker player (Jason Stratham) and "Slow Burn" (2007), playing an ambitious D.A. trying to take down a gang leader (LL Cool J).
Liotta joined the ever-increasing trend of film actors turning to series television when he chose to star in "Smith" (CBS, 2006-07), playing the cold and calculating boss of a heist crew who wants to make a few lost scores before he retires to a normal life with his wife (Virginia Madsen) and kids. After only four episodes, however, the network canceled the expensive series, leaving little to show for the money spent. Following a reunion with Carnahan on "Smokin' Aces" (2006), in which he played a stalwart FBI agent assigned to protect a sleazy magician (Jeremy Piven) waiting to testify against the Vegas mob, Liotta joined the ensemble cast of "Wild Hogs" (2007), a big, dumb and hugely successful comedy about four down-and-out men (John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy) going through their respective mid-life crises. The four embark on a freewheeling, cross-country motorcycle trip in order to prove their manhood, but run afoul with the leader of a biker gang (Liotta) set on teaching the wannabes real biker behavior. He next co-starred in the political drama, "Battle in Seattle" (2008), playing real-life mayor Jim Tobin, who was in charge during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests that turned into a downtown melee between demonstrators and police.