Nationality: American. Born: Newark, New Jersey, 9 February 1943. Family: Married and divorced three times; one daughter, Tiffany, from first marriage. Career: Began performing on stage as a child and became a regular on the TV variety show Startime Kids , 1953; made his screen debut as a back-up guitarist with Joey Dee and The Starlighters in Hey, Let's Twist , 1961; worked as a lounge singer and stand-up comedian under the names "Jonathan Marcus," "Joey Prima," and "Joey Cannon," and recorded a record album under the name "Joe Ritchie," titled "Little Joe Sure Can Sing," 1960s; teamed with Frank Vincent in a nightclub act, early 1970s; had his initial screen acting role in Death Collector , 1975; earned acclaim for his first important role in Raging Bull , 1980; starred in the short-lived TV sitcom, Half Nelson , 1985; appeared as "Mr. Big" in the Michael Jackson music video Moonwalker , 1988. Awards: Best Newcomer to Film British Academy Award, New York Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actor, National Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actor, National Board of Review Best Supporting Actor, for Raging Bull , 1980; Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor, National Board of Review Best Supporting Actor, for GoodFellas , 1990; Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) American Comedy Award, for My Cousin Vinny , 1992. Agent: Contemporary Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212–1825, U.S.A.
Hey, Let's Twist (Garrison) (extra)
Death Collector ( Family Enforcer ) (De Vito) (billed as Joseph Pesci)
Raging Bull (Scorsese) (as Joey LaMotta); Don't Go in the House (Ellison) (billed as Joey Pesci)
I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can (Hofsiss) (as Roger); Dear Mr. Wonderful ( Ruby's Dream ) (Lilienthal) (as Ruby Dennis)
Easy Money (Signorelli) (as Nicky); Eureka (Roeg) (as Mayakofsky)
Once upon a Time in America (Leone) (as Frankie Monaldi); Tutti dentro ( Put 'Em All in Jail ; Everybody in Jail ) (Sordi) (as Corrado Emilio Parisi)
Man on Fire (Chouraqui) (as David)
Lethal Weapon 2 (Richard Donner) (as Leo Getz); Backtrack ( Catchfire ) (Dennis Hopper—released in U.S. in 1991) (as Leo Carelli)
GoodFellas (Scorsese) (as Tommy De Vito); Betsy's Wedding (Alda) (as Oscar Henner); Home Alone (Columbus) (as Harry)
The Super (Daniel) (as Louie Kritski); JFK (Oliver Stone) (as David Ferrie)
My Cousin Vinny (Lynn) (as Vincent La Guardia Gambino); The Public Eye (Franklin) (as Leonard "The Great Bernzini" Bernstein); Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (Columbus) (as Harry); Lethal Weapon 3 (Richard Donner) (as Leo Getz)
A Bronx Tale (De Niro) (as Carmine)
With Honors (Keshishian) (as Simon Wilder); Jimmy Hollywood (Levinson) (as Jimmy Alto)
Casino (Scorsese) (as Nicky Santoro); 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag (Schulman) (as Tommy Spinelli)
Gone Fishin' (Cain) (as Joe Waters)
Lethal Weapon 4 (Donner) (as Leo Getz)
"20 Questions," interview with J. Bain, in Playboy (Chicago), December 1991.
"Wholly Joe," interview with Geoff Andrew, in Time Out (London), 15 July 1992.
"Whap! It's Joltin' Joe Pesci," interview with Dennis Hopper, in Interview (New York), November 1992.
Stern, Ellen, in New York Times , 5 December 1980.
"Interview Dear Mr. Wonderful : Peter Lilienthal on the Star of His Picture, Joe Pesci," in Kino (Berlin), no. 4, 1982.
McDonough, J., "Joe Pesci," in Film Comment (New York), Novem-ber/December 1989.
Hoban, Phoebe, "Raging Joe Pesci," in New York , 4 March 1991.
Siedenberg, Robert, "Splashy Movies, Unsung Stars," in American Film (Los Angeles), June 1991.
Harrison, N., "Joe Pesci? That Guy Is Some Kind of Character," in New York Times , 8 March 1992.
Clark, John, filmography in Premiere (New York), October 1992.
Current Biography 1994 , New York, 1994.
Radio Times (London), 9 September 1995.
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To date, two roles have defined Joe Pesci's screen career. Both came in films directed by Martin Scorsese, and in each he plays
The first is Raging Bull , in which he earned celluloid stardom and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. For years, Pesci had been struggling to establish himself in the entertainment industry as an actor, stand-up comic, and singer. Prior to Raging Bull , his sole previous screen acting had been in Death Collector , a low-budget crime melodrama in which he is billed as "Joseph" Pesci. When Scorsese cast him, he had retired from show business and was managing a restaurant in the Bronx. Pesci plays Joey, the ill-bred brother-manager of boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro). The latter is an inarticulate, irrationally jealous man, who throughout the course of the story self-destructively alienates himself from his loved ones, including his brother. Pesci proved himself more than up to the challenge of playing an important role in a high-powered movie which became an instant classic among biopics and boxing dramas. If Scorsese and De Niro won the lion's share of credit for the success of Raging Bull , Pesci (along with Cathy Moriarty, cast as LaMotta's wife) earned an entree into the celluloid main arena.
Nevertheless, in the decade between Raging Bull and GoodFellas , his second film with Scorsese, Pesci's screen career floundered. None of his roles during this period was memorable; his best was in the little-seen Dear Mr. Wonderful , playing a character not unlike the pre- Raging Bull Joe Pesci: Ruby Dennis, a man who has show business aspirations but finds himself operating a bowling alley-nightclub in New Jersey.
Pesci had failed to fulfill the potential he exhibited in Raging Bull. But he was back in full force in GoodFellas —again with De Niro—and his work here not only thrust him into starring roles but earned him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. GoodFellas is a tough, knowing, based-on-fact gangster epic, depicting the evolution of life in the New York Mafia for a quarter-century beginning in the mid-1950s. The primary character is Ray Liotta's Henry Hill, a young guy "from the neighborhood" who yearns to be a wiseguy, with De Niro playing James Conway, Hill's mentor. Pesci's role is strictly a supporting one, on hand to inject the film with a vivid dose of local color. He offers a graphic, scene-stealing performance as Tommy De Vito, a quick-tempered hoodlum. Tommy is no by-the-numbers mob executioner. He is a psychopath who savors being a gangster, and is obsessed with his machismo; he sticks a switchblade in the gut of a rival with the same emotion he would invest in sticking a carving knife in a Thanksgiving turkey. GoodFellas differs from Raging Bull in that Pesci is not overshadowed by De Niro, perhaps because the latter's role is neither the showiest nor the most important in the film.
Pesci was to prove equally adept at playing urban types who are comical rather than sinister. This certainly is the case in the Home Alone films, in which he is cast as Harry, one of a pair of street slime who tangle in cartoon-violent fashion with a young, resourceful boy (Macauley Culkin); and in Lethal Weapon 2, Lethal Weapon 3 , and Lethal Weapon 4 , in which he plays annoying but likable Leo Getz, a profanity-spewing runt who is perfectly described by the character played by Mel Gibson as having "a B.S. in b.s." Here, according to a Variety critic, Pesci is allowed to showcase "his unique ability to go absolutely ballistic in rat-a-tat fashion." The actor gave what was perhaps his best post- GoodFellas performance in My Cousin Vinny , cast in a role he was born to play: Brooklyn "lawyer" Vincent La Guardia Gambino, who heads way out of his element—to the Deep South—to defend his cousin and a friend who have been falsely accused of murder. If you grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn you knew guys like Gambino, a hopelessly uncouth but nonetheless persistent and thoroughly engaging character who wears his accent on his sleeve.
Pesci also brought a creepy presence to JFK , cast as alleged Kennedy assassination conspirator David Ferrie, and had one of his most sympathetic roles in The Public Eye , playing a Weegee-like 1940s tabloid newspaper photographer. In Casino , his third film with Scorsese, he virtually repeats his GoodFellas characterization, playing Nicky Santoro, another ballsy mobster who is as short-fused as he is short in stature. Nicky's turf is Las Vegas, rather than New York. He is sent there by the "bosses" back east to be the muscle behind Robert De Niro's casino manager, and he eventually builds himself into the town's most powerful enforcer. Nicky relishes being a gangster. No matter how big a guy is, Nicky will fearlessly take him on and beat him up. Pesci's acting is letter-perfect, but one cannot escape the fact that Nicky Santoro is a virtual clone of Tommy De Vito.
Playing Tommy De Vito may have earned Pesci star stature, but more often than not his starring films— The Super (playing a New York City slumlord), With Honors (a homeless man), Jimmy Hollywood (a Tinseltown wannabe), 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag (a mob hit man), and Gone Fishin' (a vacationing fisherman)—have been undistinguished. Will he ever find a third (or fourth, or fifth) great role to rival the ones he played in Raging Bull and GoodFellas ?