Joe Pesci (Joseph Frank Pesci) born February 9, 1943 is an American actor and musician. He is known for portraying tough, volatile characters in a variety of genres and for his collaborations with Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese in the films Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), and The Irishman (2019).
He also appeared in Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Moonwalker (1988), JFK (1991), A Bronx Tale (1993), and The Good Shepherd (2006). His comedy roles include such films as Home Alone (1990), My Cousin Vinny (1992), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), and the Lethal Weapon franchise (1989–1998).
Joe Pesci won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the psychopathic gangster Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas and received two other nominations in the same category for his portrayals of Joey LaMotta and Russell Bufalino in 1980’s Raging Bull and in 2019’s The Irishman, respectively.
He announced his retirement from acting in 1999, and has since appeared only occasionally in films. He is also a musician who has recorded three studio albums, Little Joe Sure Can Sing! (1968), Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You (1998) and Joe Pesci… Still Singing (2019).
Joe Pesci was born on February 9, 1943, in Newark, New Jersey. His mother, Maria (Mesce), worked part-time as a hairdresser, and his father, Angelo Pesci, was a forklift driver for General Motors and a bartender. He is of Italian descent, with origins in Turin and Aquilonia in province of Avellino. Pesci was raised in Belleville, New Jersey, and graduated from Belleville High School. By the time Pesci was five years old, he was appearing in plays in New York. At age 10, he was a regular on a television variety show called Startime Kids, which also featured Connie Francis.
As a teenager, Joe Pesci was friends with singers Frankie Valli (who is nine years his senior) and Tommy DeVito (who was 15 years his senior), and in 1959, at age 16, he helped introduce them to singer and songwriter Bob Gaudio, which led to the formation of the band The Four Seasons.
In the 1960s, Joe Pescibegan working as a barber, following in his mother’s footsteps. At the same time, he tried to start a musical career, playing guitar with several bands, including Joey Dee and the Starliters who introduced the “Peppermint Twist” record, dance, and Peppermint Lounge in New York City.
In 1968, he released his debut album Little Joe Sure Can Sing! (billed as Joe Ritchie), on which he sang covers of contemporary pop hits.
Joe Pescilater joined Frank Vincent as a comedy duo, performing as “Vincent and Pesci” from 1970 to 1976. Their act coupled Abbott and Costello-inspired double act antics with Don Rickles-style insult comedy, which proved popular with crowds. During this time, both men developed a strong professional and personal friendship with one another. In 1975, they appeared in the Broadway show The New Vaudevillians, which only lasted one week.
The first film Pesci starred in was the 1976 low-budget crime film The Death Collector alongside Frank Vincent. After the film Pesci returned to The Bronx and lived above Amici’s Restaurant, where he was an employee.
In 1979, Pesci received a telephone call from Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, who were impressed with his performance in The Death Collector and asked him to co-star in Scorsese’s Raging Bull as Joey LaMotta. During the course of filming, Pesci broke one of his ribs.
Joe Pesci won the BAFTA Film Award for Newcomer to Leading Film Roles in 1981 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Over the next few years, Pesci appeared in several smaller films, including Dear Mr. Wonderful (1982), Easy Money (1983) and Eureka (1983).
In 1984, he was cast in Once Upon a Time in America, again appearing alongside De Niro. The following year he starred as private detective Rocky Nelson in the short-lived television comedy series Half Nelson.
In 1988, Joe Pesci appeared in the Michael Jackson musical anthology film Moonwalker, in the film’s sixth and longest segment, “Smooth Criminal.” He played the antagonist, crime boss Frankie “Mr. Big” LiDeo (an anagram for one of the film’s producers and longtime Jackson manager Frank DiLeo, with whom Pesci later acted in Goodfellas).
He appeared as Leo Getz, a comedic sidekick and best friend to protagonist detectives Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) in the Lethal Weapon sequels, released in 1989, 1992 and 1998.
In 1990, he reunited with Scorsese and De Niro for Goodfellas, in which he played mobster Tommy DeVito, based on real-life mobster Thomas DeSimone. (Tommy DeVito also being the name of Pesci’s old acquaintance from Belleville, New Jersey, and a member of The Four Seasons, but contrary to popular belief, the naming is coincidental.) Pesci’s old friend Frank Vincent also appears in the film; Pesci’s character kills Vincent’s character in a rage in one of the best-remembered scenes in the film after the Vincent character contemptuously tells him to “go home and get your fucking shine box.” According to Pesci, improvization and ad-libbing came out of rehearsals wherein Scorsese let the actors do whatever they wanted.
He made transcripts of these sessions, took the lines the actors came up with that he liked best, and put them into a revised script that the cast worked from during principal photography. For example, the scene where Tommy tells a story and Henry is responding to him—the “Funny how? Do I amuse you?” scene—is based on an actual event that Pesci experienced.
Joe Pesci was working as a waiter when he thought he was making a compliment to a mobster by saying he was “funny,” however, the comment was not taken well. It was worked on in rehearsals where he and Liotta improvised, and Scorsese recorded four to five takes, rewrote their dialogue, and inserted it into the script. The dinner scene with Tommy’s mother was largely improvised. Pesci received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role, which he accepted with one of the shortest speeches in Oscar history, saying simply, “It’s my privilege. Thank you” before leaving the stage.
Joe Pesci also co-starred in the blockbuster Home Alone in 1990, playing Harry Lyme, one of two bumbling burglars (along with good friend Daniel Stern) who attempt to burgle the house of the young character played by Macaulay Culkin. Pesci’s use of “cartoon cursing”, or menacing gibberish, garnered comparisons to Looney Tunes character Yosemite Sam. Two years later, Pesci reprised his role in the sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
In 1991, Pesci played David Ferrie in JFK. In 1992 he appeared as the title character in the comedy My Cousin Vinny with Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei and Fred Gwynne. The same year, Pesci spearheaded the cast of The Public Eye as Leon “Bernzy” Bernstein, a photographer. His performance in the film, a departure from his usual characters, was critically acclaimed.
Joe Pesci hosted sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live on October 10, 1992, while doing publicity for My Cousin Vinny. During his monolog, he restored a picture of Pope John Paul II that had been torn by Sinéad O’Connor on the previous broadcast.
In 1993, Joe Pesci made an appearance in A Bronx Tale as Carmine. The film starred Robert De Niro, who also directed, and Chazz Palminteri who wrote the play from which the film was adapted. Both De Niro and Palminteri personally offered Pesci the role. In 1995, Pesci had his third collaboration with Scorsese and De Niro in the film Casino, playing Nicky Santoro, based on real-life Mob enforcer Anthony Spilotro, along with Sharon Stone and James Woods; Pesci had previously co-starred with the latter in Once Upon a Time in America.
During filming, Pesci broke the same rib that had been broken 15 years prior during the production of Raging Bull. In 1996, Pesci was considered to play Myron Larabee, the stressed-out postman, in Jingle All the Way opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the part was ultimately given to Sinbad, whose physical size was more comparable to Schwarzenegger’s.
He had starring roles in several other films, including Man on Fire (1987), The Super (1991), Jimmy Hollywood (1994), With Honors (also 1994) and Gone Fishin’ (1997). Pesci’s role in With Honors was a dramatic role in which he played a homeless man living on the campus of Harvard.
In 1998, he released his second album, and his first in 30 years, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, which was named after his character from the 1992 film My Cousin Vinny. The album was both humorous and serious, exploring a variety of genres, though most of it was big band jazz. The album spawned the single “Wise Guy,” a rap number that played on the gangsta theme by making reference to Mafia gangsterism. “Wise Guy” interpolated the 1980 hit “Rapture” by Blondie, and was co-written and produced by the hip-hop production team the Trackmasters.
Retirement from acting
In 1999, Pesci announced his retirement from acting to pursue a musical career and to enjoy life away from the camera. He returned to acting when he did a cameo in De Niro’s 2006 film The Good Shepherd. In 2010, he starred in the brothel drama Love Ranch, alongside Helen Mirren.
Joe Pesci appeared with Don Rickles in a 2011 Snickers advertisement in which he portrays the angry alter ego of a young man who attends a party and becomes agitated by two women until he is calmed down by eating a Snickers bar.
In 2011, Pesci sued Fiore Films, the producers of the film Gotti, for having broken their promise to cast him in that film as real-life mobster Angelo Ruggiero. Pesci stated that he had gained 30 pounds (14 kg) for the role. He sued them for $3 million, which was the payment he had been promised. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2013 for an unspecified sum, and the role, after many production delays, eventually went to Pruitt Taylor Vince.
Joe Pesci appears in the 2016 music documentary Jimmy Scott: I Go Back Home in which he is filmed recording “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” from Scott’s 2017 posthumous album I Go Back Home.
Reprise for The Irishman
In 2017, Pesci was cast alongside Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in The Irishman, a crime film directed by Martin Scorsese. Pesci was offered his role a reported 50 times before agreeing to take part, at first saying he did not want to do “the gangster thing again,” while Scorsese tried to persuade him The Irishman would be “different.” The film received a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, followed by digital streaming on November 27, 2019 by Netflix.
Joe Pesci performance as Russell Bufalino was critically acclaimed and earned him various accolades, including nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor and for two Screen Actors Guild Awards. Pesci also returned to music with his third album and his first in 21 years, titled Pesci… Still Singing, released on November 29, 2019.
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Pesci is a character in the 2005 musical Jersey Boys, which tells the story of The Four Seasons, due to his involvement in the band’s formation. He is similarly a character in the musical’s 2014 film adaptation. In the film, the Joe Pesci character asks “funny how?,” a quote from Goodfellas.
Joe Pesci was briefly a recurring character on Saturday Night Live, played by Jim Breuer. Breuer’s characterization was based on Pesci’s Goodfellas character, re-imagined as a talk show host, but maintaining Tommy DeVito’s violent temper, often beating his guests with a baseball bat. This recurring gag eventually culminated in the real Pesci appearing in a cameo and insisting he is nothing like the violent, temperamental characters he portrays, before beating Breuer with a bat.
Joe Pesci has been married and divorced three times. His first was in 1964, from which he has a daughter. His third marriage was from 1988 to 1992, to Claudia Haro, a model and actress. In 2007, Pesci was engaged to Angie Everhart, but the couple broke up in 2008.
|1961||Hey, Let’s Twist!||Dancer at the Peppermint Lounge||Uncredited|
|1976||The Death Collector||Joe Salvino|
|1980||Raging Bull||Joey LaMotta|
|1982||I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can||Roger||Joe Pesci|
|Dear Mr. Wonderful||Ruby Dennis|
|Easy Money||Nicky Cerone|
|1984||Once Upon a Time in America||Frankie Minaldi|
|Everybody in Jail||Corrado Parisi|
|1987||Man on Fire||David Coolidge|
|The Legendary Life of Ernest Hemingway||John Dos Passos|
|1989||Lethal Weapon 2||Leo Getz|
|1990||Catchfire||Leo Carelli||Uncredited cameo|
|Betsy’s Wedding||Oscar Henner|
|Home Alone||Harry Lyme|
|1991||The Super||Louie Kritski|
|1992||My Cousin Vinny||Vincent LaGuardia Gambini|
|Lethal Weapon 3||Leo Getz|
|The Public Eye||Leon Bernstein|
|Home Alone 2: Lost in New York||Harry Lyme|
|1993||A Bronx Tale||Carmine|
|1994||Jimmy Hollywood||Jimmy Alto||Joe Pesci|
|With Honors||Simon Wilder|
|1997||8 Heads in a Duffel Bag||Tommy Spinelli|
|Gone Fishin’||Joe Waters|
|1998||Lethal Weapon 4||Leo Getz|
|2006||The Good Shepherd||Joseph Palmi||Cameo|
|2010||Love Ranch||Charlie Bontempo|
|2015||A Warrior’s Tail||Mosquito||Voice|
|2019||The Irishman||Russell Bufalino|
|1985||Half Nelson||Rocky Nelson||6 episodes|
|1992||Tales from the Crypt||Vic / Jack||Episode: “Split Personality”|
|Saturday Night Live||Himself / Host||Episode: “Joe Pesci / The Spin Doctors”|
Awards and nominations
Joe Pesci has received numerous awards nominations including three Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor for his performances in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), and The Irishman (2019).
|1980||Academy Awards||Best Supporting Actor||Raging Bull||Nominated|
|1982||British Film Academy Awards||Best Film Newcomer||Raging Bull||Won|
|2020||Best Supporting Actor||The Irishman||Nominated|
|1981||Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture||Raging Bull||Nominated|
|2020||Screen Actors Guild Awards||Outstanding Supporting Actor – Motion Picture||The Irishman||Nominated|
|Outstanding Ensemble – Motion Picture||Nominated|