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Actor Paul Sorvino, star of 'Goodfellas,' and 'Law & Order,' dies at 83

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This morning, people are remembering actor Paul Sorvino. He died yesterday at 83 years old. Sorvino was featured in an array of movies and TV shows - Warren Beatty's "Reds," Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet," and several episodes of "Law & Order." But he was best known for his role as Paulie in the 1990 Martin Scorsese movie "Goodfellas." You remember that one scene where they're in prison making dinner? Sorvino's character slices up garlic using a razor blade. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: There's a less flashy scene in "Goodfellas," but it's one that really shows off what Paul Sorvino could do. It's after they're in prison, and Sorvino's Paulie is talking to Henry, his protege, played by the late Ray Liotta.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOODFELLAS")

PAUL SORVINO: (As Paulie Cicero) I don't want any more of that [expletive].

RAY LIOTTA: (As Henry Hill) What [expletive]? What are you talking about?

SORVINO: (As Paulie Cicero) Just stay away from the garbage. You know what I mean.

LIMBONG: Paulie is warning Henry about selling drugs, about associates of his that might cause trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOODFELLAS")

SORVINO: (As Paulie Cicero) You've got to watch out for kids like this.

LIOTTA: (As Henry Hill) Yeah, I know what they are. I only use them for certain things. Believe me. You don't have to worry.

SORVINO: (As Paulie Cicero) Listen, I ain't going to get [expletive] like Gribbs.

LIMBONG: And every time the shot goes from Liotta's face back to Sorvino's, it's like his eyes get a little wider, his brow higher. His voice doesn't get louder, but it gets scarier. And it builds until you can feel it when Sorvino slaps Liotta in the face.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOODFELLAS")

SORVINO: (As Paulie Cicero) And you see anybody f***ing around with this [expletive], you're going to tell me, right?

LIOTTA: (As Henry Hill) Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLAPPING)

SORVINO: (As Paulie Cicero) That means anybody.

LIMBONG: Paul Sorvino was born in Brooklyn in 1939. He first started working as a copywriter in advertising but left for theater, debuting on Broadway in 1964 and starting his film career in the '70s.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SORVINO: As an actor, as you go down the road, you begin to understand how difficult a profession it is.

LIMBONG: This is Sorvino talking to NPR in 1979 about how he views his craft.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SORVINO: Now, I'm trying to put together work that will last for hundreds of years. I'd like my great-great-grandchildren to look at great-great-grandpa and say, wasn't he a good actor? He had integrity.

LIMBONG: In a statement, his wife, Dee Dee Sorvino, wrote, he was the love of my life and one of the greatest performers to ever grace the screen and stage.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINCERELY")

THE MOONGLOWS: (Singing) Sincerely... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.