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Actor Ray Liotta, best known for 'Goodfellas,' dies at 67

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

One of the wisest of wiseguys is gone. Actor Ray Liotta died yesterday while filming in the Dominican Republic. He was 67. He was the charismatic star of "Goodfellas," playing a real-life mobster who rose, fell and finally turned on other mobsters.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ray Liotta was born in Newark, N.J., in 1954. He was adopted out of an orphanage by an Italian American family. He studied acting at the University of Miami, and he played a jealous ex-husband in the 1986 movie "Something Wild."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOMETHING WILD")

RAY LIOTTA: (As Ray Sinclair) You know, Charlie, she's not going to be too happy driving around in a station wagon the rest of her life. You better think about that.

FADEL: Later, he played Shoeless Joe Jackson in "Field Of Dreams."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIELD OF DREAMS")

LIOTTA: (As Shoeless Joe Jackson) If you build it, he will come.

FADEL: But his defining performance was as Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas." In one scene, he's questioned by Joe Pesci about an offhand remark.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOODFELLAS")

JOE PESCI: (As Tommy DeVito) What do you mean I'm funny?

(LAUGHTER)

LIOTTA: (As Henry Hill) It's funny. You know, that story - it's funny. You're a funny guy.

PESCI: (As Tommy DeVito) What do you mean? You mean the way I talk? What?

LIOTTA: (As Henry Hill) It's just - you know. It's - you're just funny. It's funny, you know, the way you tell the story and everything.

PESCI: (As Tommy DeVito) Funny how?

INSKEEP: You can feel the menace. The film was almost too good for Ray Liotta. He later avoided gangster roles for a time because he didn't want to be typecast. Not until late in his career did he return to that genre, notably in the recent Sopranos prequel, "The Many Saints Of Newark."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK")

LIOTTA: (As Salvatore Moltisanti) Maybe some of the things you choose to do aren't God's favorite.

ALESSANDRO NIVOLA: (As Dickie Moltisanti) What are you trying to say?

LIOTTA: (As Salvatore Moltisanti) What do I know? I'm a murderer.

INSKEEP: Several of Ray Liotta's characters were. But in that film, he actually played two characters - twins with very different personalities, which spoke to the complexity of people and also to his acting talent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE IS BUT A DREAM")

THE HARPTONES: (Singing) Life is but a dream. It's what you make it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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