Ray Liotta, the magnetic driving force behind Goodfellas, Something Wild, Marriage Story, and dozens of other memorable roles, passed away this week in his sleep, according to Deadline. He was 67.
It’s a huge loss, not only because Liotta was returning to prominence, but because he was a guy who worked constantly and seemed to truly enjoy it and the people he did it with. He pushed himself; he morphed and adapted. He kissed a guy to try something. It’s always fun to hear him say “Karen!” in every possible manner in Goodfellas, in which he starred in his most iconic role as gangster Henry Hill.
Several co-stars of Liotta’s have spoken out in the news following his death, from Alessandro Nivola, who worked with him in The Many Saints of Newark, to Taron Egerton, who worked with him in the forthcoming Black Bird. But it is most heartening to see Lorraine Bracco, the Karen of Goodfellas, tweet in love and praise of Liotta:
My first memory of Liotta is from Field of Dreams, one of my mother’s favorite movies, shot and filmed in Galena, IL, a few hours due west of where I grew up. We often went on vacation to Galena when I was a kid, and we always made the trek fifteen minutes over the border into Iowa, where the Field of Dreams house sat, cars lined up to visit. The film is weepy, Midwestern dad-core at its finest, indulgently nostalgic and straining to make sense, and Liotta is a fucking revelation in it.
For those who have blocked out commercial-laden screenings of the film, Kevin Costner stars as Ray Kinsella, a down-on-his-luck Iowa farmer who starts hearing a mysterious voice, telling him to build a baseball field in his backyard. You know the refrain: if you build it, they will come. Everyone thinks Kinsella’s crazy, and he is crazy, but he does build it, and they do come. The “they” in question is the Chicago White Sox, Kinsella’s dad’s favorite team, which was accused of throwing the 1919 World Series and faced a subsequent ban from the league. The first of them out in the cornfield is Shoeless Joe Jackson, played by Liotta, who emerges — from purgatory, from nothing — to play ball. As Jackson, Liotta is ethereal but never delicate; poised, but playful. He feels both real and fantastical, like lightning in a bottle. “Is this heaven?” he asks Kinsella, and the movie changes for the better.
Field of Dreams is schlock, but schlock is often cathartic if not wonderful, and the schlock wouldn’t be half as moving without Liotta. His bewitching ballplayer keeps the movie from teetering over the edge into a Lifetime special. It’s that he’s so believably tangible for someone who is either a ghost or an angel or something in-between. That was the magic of Liotta in everything, whether he was a ballplayer, a gangster, a psycho, a video-game character, a lawyer, or a guy: you bought what he was selling, even if it felt beyond real, beyond what we know. He heightened reality just by walking into a frame, eyes big and blue and open, ready to show us something we’d never seen before and wouldn’t see again.