Pesci, Joe

views updated May 09 2018


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.

Films as Actor:


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)


By PESCI: articles—

"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.

On PESCI: articles—

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.

* * *

To date, two roles have defined Joe Pesci's screen career. Both came in films directed by Martin Scorsese, and in each he plays variations of the same character: a pint-sized New Yorker who is hilariously foul-mouthed and invariably in-your-face.

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?

—Rob Edelman

Pesci, Joe 1943–

views updated May 23 2018

Pesci, Joe 1943–

(Joey Cannon, Joe Doggs, Jonathan Marcus, Joey Pesci, Joey Prima, Joe Ritchie)


Full name, Joseph Pesci; born February 9, 1943, in Newark, NJ; son of Angelo (a forklift driver and bartender) and Mary Pesci; married Claudia Haro (an actress), 1989 (divorced, 1992); some sources also cite two other marriages; children: (with Haro) Tiffany. Education: Studied acting with Michael V. Gazzo in Los Angeles. Avocational Interests: Golf.

Addresses: Manager—Melissa Prophet, Melissa Prophet Management, 1640 South Sepulveda Dr., Suite 216, Los Angeles, CA 90025.

Career: Actor. Child actor on stage in New York City; singer and guitarist with Joey D and the Starliters; performed with Frank Vincent and the Aristocrats; standup comedian and lounge singer as Joey Cannon, Jonathan Marcus, and Joey Prima; performed as voice of the Brooklyn Bridge in a television commercial for Lexus; appeared in other commercials, including ads for Pepsi soft drinks and SBC telephone services. Amici's (restaurant), Bronx, NY, worked as manager; also worked for a stone mason and an answering service and as a postal worker, produce manager, and truck driver.

Awards, Honors: New York Film Critics Award and National Board of Review Award, 1980, National Society of Film Critics Award and Academy Award nomination, 1981, all best supporting actor, Golden Globe Award nomination, best supporting actor in a motion picture, 1981, and Film Award, best newcomer to film, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1982, all for Raging Bull; National Board of Review Award and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, best supporting actor, and D. W. Griffith Award, all 1990, Academy Award, Chicago Film Critics Association Award, and Boston Society of Film Critics Award, all best supporting actor, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best supporting actor in a film, all 1991, all for GoodFellas; American Comedy Award, funniest lead actor in a motion picture, and MTV Movie Award nomination, best comedic performance, both 1993, for My Cousin Vinnie; MTV Movie Award nomination, best villain, 1996, for Casino; Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination, favorite supporting actor in an action or adventure film, 1999, for Lethal Weapon 4.


Film Appearances:

(Uncredited) Dancer at Peppermint Club, Hey, Let's Twist, 1961.

Michael, Out of It, 1969.

Joe, Death Collector (also known as The Collector, The Enforcer, and Family Enforcer), Epoh, 1976.

Joey LaMotta, Raging Bull, United Artists, 1980.

(As Joey Pesci) Don't Go in the House, Turbine, 1980.

Roger, I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can, Paramount, 1982.

Ruby Dennis, Dear Mr. Wonderful (also known as Ruby's Dream), Lilienthal, 1983.

Nicky Cerone, Easy Money, Orion, 1983.

Mayakofsky, Eureka, United Artists, 1983.

(Uncredited) Road painter, Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, 1983.

Corrado Emilio Parisi, Tutti dentro (also known as Everybody in Jail and Put 'em All in Jail), CDE, 1984.

Frankie Monaldi, Once Upon a Time in America (also known as C'era una volta in America), Warner Bros., 1984.

David, Man on Fire (also known as Absinthe and Un uomo sotto tiro), TriStar, 1987.

(Uncredited) Leo Carelli, Catchfire (also known as Backtrack and Do It the Hard Way), Vestron Video, 1988.

The Legendary Life of Ernest Hemingway (also known as Hemingway, festa e morte), 1988.

Leo Getz, Lethal Weapon 2, Warner Bros., 1989.

Tommy DeVito, GoodFellas, Warner Bros., 1989.

Oscar Henner, Betsy's Wedding, Buena Vista, 1989.

Harry Lime, Home Alone, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1990.

David Ferrie, JFK, Warner Bros., 1991.

Louis Kritski, The Super, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1991.

Harry Lime, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (also known as Home Alone II), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1992.

Leo Getz, Lethal Weapon 3, Warner Bros., 1992.

Vincent "Vinny" LaGuardia Gambino, My Cousin Vinny, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1992.

Leonard "Leon" Bernstein (The Great Bernzini), The Public Eye, Universal, 1992.

Carmine, A Bronx Tale, Savoy Pictures, 1993.

Jimmy Alto, Jimmy Hollywood, Paramount, 1994.

Simon Wilder, With Honors (also known as With Highest Honors), Warner Bros., 1994.

Nicky Santoro, Casino, Universal, 1995.

Joe Waters, Gone Fishin', Buena Vista, 1997.

Tommy Spinelli, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, Orion, 1997.

Leo Getz, Lethal Weapon 4 (also known as Lethal 4), Warner Bros., 1998.

Himself, A Galaxy Far, Far Away, MorningStar Productions, 2001.

Crime boss, The Good Shepherd, Universal, 2006.

Television Appearances; Specials:

The Making of "Easy Money," 1983.

"Martin Scorsese Directs," American Masters, PBS, 1990.

Mel Gibson's Unauthorized Video Diary, HBO, 1991.

Mel Gibson's Video Diary 2: Lethal Weapon 3, HBO, 1991.

Street Scenes: New York on Film, AMC, 1992.

The Making of "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," Fox, 1992.

Comic Relief V, HBO, 1992.

The Academy of Country Music's Greatest Hits, NBC, 1993.

The 2nd Annual Saturday Night Live Mother's Day Special, NBC, 1993.

Andrew Dice Clay and His Gang Live! The Valentine's Day Massacre, pay-per-view, 1993.

Ronald Grump, Sesame Street's All-Star 25th Birthday: Stars and Street Forever!, ABC, 1994.

Interviewee, Canned Ham: Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag, Comedy Central, 1997.

A Salute to Martin Scorsese (also known as The 25th American Film Institute Life Achievement Award: A Salute to Martin Scorsese), CBS, 1997.

Tony Bennett: An All-Star Tribute—Live by Request, Arts and Entertainment, 1998.

Andy Perotta (in archive footage), Saturday Night Live: The Best of Chris Rock, NBC, 1999.

Saturday Night Live: Game Show Parodies, NBC, 1999.

Little Jimmy Scott, Bravo, 1999.

AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Robert De Niro, USA Network, 2003.

(In archive footage) The Award Show Awards Show, Trio, 2003.

(In archive footage) 101 Most Unforgettable SNL Moments, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.

Television Appearances; Series:

Television's Star Time Kids, The DuMont Network, 1950–51.

Rocky Nelson, Half Nelson, NBC, 1985.

Television Appearances; Pilots:

Rocky Nelson, Half Nelson, NBC, 1985.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Small group leader, "Lucy Gets a Roommate," The Lucy Show, 1966.

Small group leader, "Lucy and Carol in Palm Springs," The Lucy Show, 1966.

Vic/Jack, "Split Personality," Tales from the Crypt, HBO, 1992.

Host, Saturday Night Live, NBC, 1992.

Himself, "Wasted Lives," The John Larroquette Show, 1994.

Guest, Late Show with David Letterman, CBS, 1997.

(Uncredited) Guest, Saturday Night Live, NBC, 1997.

Guest, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1997, 1998.

Guest, The Howard Stern Radio Show, syndicated, 1999.

"The Films of Martin Scorsese," The Directors, Encore, 1999.

All-Star Cup 2005, Sky TV, 2005.

Jimmy Alto (in archive footage), Cinema mil, Televisio de Catalunya, 2005.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

The 38th Annual Golden Globe Awards, CBS, 1981.

The 63rd Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1991.

Presenter, The 64th Annual Academy Awards Presentation, ABC, 1992.

Presenter, The 65th Annual Academy Awards Presentation, ABC, 1993.

Presenter, The 8th Annual American Comedy Awards, ABC, 1994.

Presenter, GQ Men of the Year Awards, VH1, 1998.

Presenter, The 1998 VH1 Fashion Awards, VH1, 1998.

The 70th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1998.

Stage Appearances:

Appeared in a Broadway production, The New Vaudevillians.



Interviewee, Pure Lethal, Warner Bros., 1998.

(In archive footage) Getting Made: The Making of "GoodFellas," Warner Home Video, 2004.

Appeared as Mr. Big in the music video "Moonwalker" by Michael Jackson, Warner Bros., 1988.


Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, Columbia, 1998.

(As Joe Doggs; with Joey DeFrancesco) Falling in Love Again, Concord, 2003.

Under the name Joe Ritchie, recorded the album Little Joe Sure Can Sing, in the 1960s.


Film Music:

Songs, Dear Mr. Wonderful (also known as Ruby's Dream), Lilienthal, 1983.



International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, 4th edition, St. James Press, 2000.


New York, March 4, 1991, p. 32.