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Remembering Ray Liotta: his most memorable roles from Goodfellas to ER

Ray Liotta
(Image credit: Vincent Sandoval/Getty Images)

The entertainment world has been rocked by the news that Ray Liotta, best known for his role as Henry Hill in Goodfellas, has died at the age of 67. While he would often pop up in crime dramas like Goodfellas, Liotta enjoyed a versatile career that got to see him play drama, action and comedy and endear him to many.

According to Deadline (opens in new tab), Liotta died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic, where he was shooting a new movie, Dangerous Waters. It was a continuation of a busy period in Liotta’s career. In just the last few years he has appeared in movies including Marriage Story, Hubie Halloween, No Sudden Move and The Many Saints of Newark, as well as roles on TV shows like Shades of Blue and Hanna. Dangerous Waters is one of six upcoming projects Liotta had, per IMDb. Some of the others include the Apple TV Plus show Black Bird and the Elizabeth Banks-directed thriller Cocaine Bear.

Liotta is survived by his daughter Karsen and his fiance Jacy Nittolo. Co-stars and others in Hollywood have shared their reactions to the shocking news on social media:

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We will always be able to remember Ray Liotta from his work. Here are some of the most memorable Ray Liotta performances.

Something Wild (1986)

Melanie Griffith and Ray Liotta in Something Wild

(Image credit: Orion Pictures / Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

While not his first movie role (that was 1983’s The Lonely Lady), Something Wild was the first role that truly got audiences noticing Ray Liotta. The Jonathan Demme movie, which also stars Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith, comes alive when Liotta makes his appearance, about halfway through, as Ray Sinclair, Griffith’s dangerous ex-boyfriend who has just been released from jail. It was one of Liotta’s most acclaimed roles, as he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, as well as nominations from critics groups.

Watch Something Wild right now on Tubi or Pluto TV.

Field of Dreams (1989)

Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams

(Image credit: UNIVERSAL / GORDON/ Album / Alamy Stock Photo)

Field of Dreams sees Liotta star as the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, who stumbles out of the afterlife to the baseball field that Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has just built in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. The baseball movie is a classic for its love of America’s pastime, the father-son relationship at its climax and its magical charm. Liotta surely helped contribute to that as the mystical spirit who helps Costner figure out what building a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield really means.

Watch Field of Dreams right now on Prime Video.

Goodfellas (1990)

Ray Liotta in Goodfellas

(Image credit: WARNER BROS. / Album / Alamy Stock Photo)

Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic is the movie that is almost certainly going to be the first anyone thinks of when they remember Ray Liotta. Portraying real-life former gangster Henry Hill, Liotta is fantastic as Hill, providing some of the best narration in a movie perhaps ever. His co-stars Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro may have gotten more acclaim (including an Oscar for Pesci), but Liotta is pivotal in making the tale of gangsters resonate with viewers — particularly with the paranoid last act of the movie.

Watch Goodfellas right now on HBO Max.

Operation Dumbo Drop (1995)

Danny Glover and Ray Liotta in Operation Dumbo Drop

(Image credit: Walt Disney Pictures / Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

For those of a certain age, before it was appropriate to watch Goodfellas, Operation Dumbo Drop was the first introduction to Ray Liotta. As the hard-nosed Vietnam soldier who resents being tasked with taking an elephant to a small village as part of a good will mission, it was a treat to see Liotta as the straight man that by the end opens up and embraces the heart of the story. We sometimes forget about the live-action movies made in the 90s (especially compared to their animated movies from that time), but Operation Dumbo Drop holds up as one of the stronger entries from that time, not least of all due to Liotta.

Watch Operation Dumbo Drop right now on Disney Plus.

ER

Ray Liotta in ER

(Image credit: NBC / Photo 12 / Alamy Stock Photo)

Liotta wasn’t an actor who often got singled out for awards. In fact his lone trophy from one of Hollywood’s marquee awards ceremonies is an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series — in the 2004 episode of ER, "Time of Death." The episode was a change of pace for ER, it focuses solely on Charlie Metcalf (Ray Liotta), who is dying. In addition to the rigors of treatment, the episode features scenes that show Charlie’s delusions and the moments of regret in his life, giving Liotta the emotional moments that resonated with Emmy voters.

Watch ER right now on HBO Max.

Marriage Story (2019)

Adam Driver and Ray Liotta in Marriage Story

(Image credit: Netflix)

One of Liotta’s more recent high profile roles was as the divorce lawyer for Adam Driver’s character in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. Liotta doesn’t show up until later in the movie, when Driver comes to the belief that he needs an "a**hole" lawyer like Scarlett Johansson’s character has. Liotta delivers on that promise as he gets to go toe-to-toe with Laura Dern in court.

Watch Marriage Story right now on Netflix.

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun.