Famed film and television tough guy Frank Vincent, who battled James Gandolfini and Robert De Niro in his most prominent roles, has died at 80.
“Legendary actor and accomplished musician Frank Vincent has passed away peacefully at the age of 80 surrounded by his family on Sept. 13, 2017. We ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time,” his family said in a statement.
The New Jersey native, who began his career in entertainment as a musician, began acting in the 1970s, a decade that also saw him form a short-lived comedy duo with fellow musician Joe Pesci. “I would abuse the audience,” Vincent said in a 1996 interview with the New York Times, “and Joe would abuse me.”
After getting his big acting break alongside Pesci in 1976’s The Death Collector, Vincent appeared as an antagonist for Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s 1980 classic Raging Bull. A fruitful collaboration with Scorsese, Pesci, and Robert De Niro would soon follow. Vincent memorably played mobster Billy Batts in Scorsese’s 1990 classic Goodfellas, uttering the immortal line, “go get your f—ing shine box,” among other profane zingers. (Vincent’s graphic death scene, at the hands of Pesci’s character, both starts Goodfellas and acts as a narrative turning point later in the story.)
In 1995, the quartet collaborated again for Casino, where Vincent scored a modicum of onscreen retribution against Pesci. In the mafia epic, it’s Vincent who kills Pesci’s character in a similarly explicit fashion.
“Marty has a knack for … picking people who are really not that well known and to develop them as actors,” Vincent said of Scorsese in a 2011 interview. “Joe Pesci and I had the chemistry anyway, from playing together for years. Marty used it three times: He used it [in Raging Bull], he used it in Casino, and he used it in Goodfellas. It was quite a nice thing for us because it brought us into the film business. And we had to learn pretty fast how to do it and what to do.”
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More roles would follow Casino, including a part in the TV movie Gotti and work on New York Undercover and NYPD Blue. In 2004, Vincent joined the cast of The Sopranos as Phil Leotardo, a major thorn in the side to Tony Soprano (the late James Gandolfini) as the HBO hit drew to its close. (Vincent’s character dies in the series finale — again, in shocking moment of violence.)
“I would say that Phil was [one of the great TV villains], yeah,” Vincent said in another 2011 interview. “He didn’t fool around. Phil was serious. He had a job to do and he thought, you know, ‘This Soprano guy is from Jersey, what does that mean? We are New Yorkers! The Jersey mob is nothing — they don’t even prick their fingers when they do the ceremony.’ Some of the writing for Phil was just brilliant.”
In 2006, as The Sopranos was coming to an end, Vincent also published a book: The Guy’s Guide to Being a Man’s Man. More recently, Vincent appeared on shows like Law & Order: SVU and Stargate: Atlantis, and voiced a character on Adult Swim animated series Mr. Pickles from 2014 to 2016.
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