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'Goodfellas' actor Ray Liotta has died at age 67

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Actor Ray Liotta, who rocketed to film stardom in "Goodfellas," has died in his sleep at a hotel in the Dominican Republic, where he was filming a movie. He was 67. NPR's Bob Mondello offers this remembrance.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Few actors have ever been offered a better opening line for their star-making role.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOODFELLAS")

RAY LIOTTA: (As Henry Hill) As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.

MONDELLO: Ray Liotta, slamming the trunk shut on what we later learned was evidence of just how gangster he'd become - those steely blue eyes, the intensity that made him terrifying even when he was terrified - all there in that very first shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOODFELLAS")

LIOTTA: (As Henry Hill) To me, being a gangster was better than being president of the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAGS TO RICHES")

TONY BENNETT: (Singing) Your love is all that ever mattered.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOODFELLAS")

LIOTTA: (As Henry Hill) Even before I first wandered into the cabstand for an after-school job, I knew I wanted to be a part of them. It was there that I knew that I belonged.

MONDELLO: "Goodfellas" made Liotta a star, but he'd been getting noticed for almost a decade at that point - first in television, then in "Something Wild," where he played a vengeful husband.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOMETHING WILD")

LIOTTA: (As Ray Sinclair) You got to fight for a woman like this.

JEFF BRIDGES: (As Charles Driggs) I don't have to fight you, Ray. I'm going to take Lulu. We're going to waltz right out of here, and there's not a damn thing you can do.

LIOTTA: (As Ray Sinclair) Ooh (laughter).

MONDELLO: Absolutely terrifying - then in "Field Of Dreams" as the baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIELD OF DREAMS")

LIOTTA: (As Shoeless Joe Jackson) Put one right here, huh?

(SOUNDBITE OF BAT HITTING BASEBALL)

KEVIN COSTNER: (As Ray Kinsella) Right, you're a low-ball hitter.

LIOTTA: (As Shoeless Joe Jackson) Man, I did love this game.

MONDELLO: ...And then "Goodfellas." For a while after that film, he turned down tough-guy roles because he didn't want to be typecast - going for parts like the devoted dad in "Corrina, Corrina" opposite Whoopi Goldberg. But soon enough, he was playing ex-cons, rogue cops and, at one point, a bribe-taking Justice Department official who shares a harrowingly memorable meal with Hannibal Lecter - not knowing it's his own flesh that's frying - in "The Silence Of The Lambs" sequel, "Hannibal."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HANNIBAL")

LIOTTA: (As Paul Krendler) That smells great.

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)

MONDELLO: Ray Liotta was, by all accounts, a nice guy - not at all like many of the parts he played. And with more than 100 roles to his credit, it would be hard to say he was ever in a career slump. But his career had definitely been experiencing a renaissance of late. And if that first line in "Goodfellas" was in any way his watch cry, he was still living that gangster dream - a harrowing role in last year's "Sopranos" prequel, "The Many Saints Of Newark," and just on the verge of executive producing a gangland documentary series. He was, in short, still in his prime and a good fella to the last.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES HORNER'S "FIELD OF DREAMS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.