Dirty Laundry

Dirty Laundry

Dirty Laundry

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 1: Actor Joe Pesci poses backstage during the 55th Annual Directors Guild Awards at the Century Plaza Hotel on March 1, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rob Mora/Getty Images)

Joseph Frank Pesci was born on February 9, 1943, in Newark, New Jersey. At just five years old, Pesci was appearing in plays in New York. Five years later, Joe was cast as a regular on a television variety show called Startime Kids, which also featured Connie Francis. Before pursuing a career in acting, Pesci followed in his mother’s footsteps and worked as a barber in the ’60s. During this time, he was also trying to start a music career. He played guitar with bands like Joey Dee and the Starliters. In 1968, he released his debut album, Little Joe Sure Can Sing! under the name Joe Ritchie). Pesci’s album consists of covers of contemporary pop hits like “Holiday” and “To Love Somebody.” He was also friends with the members of the Four Seasons (and you can see more about that in the film Jersey Boys).

Pesci’s Acting Journey

A decade later, Pesci later joined Frank Vincent in a comedy duo, performing as “Vincent and Pesci.” In 1976, he and Vincent were cast in his first film, a 1976 low-budget crime flick called The Death Collector. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro were impressed by his performance in the film and offered him his first big role in Scorsese’s Raging Bull. Before they persuaded him to take the role, Pesci had been on the verge of giving up his faltering acting career. With 46 acting credits below his belt, we are glad Pesci didn’t give up on acting. He is known for playing short-tempered and violent characters, but his co-stars have always spoken fondly of him and described him as soft-spoken and humble. His foul-mouth on and off screen made Home Alone director Chris Columbus place a Swear Jar for the adult actors to use whenever they cursed. Supposedly, Pesci filled it up in a single day.

Take a look below at our favorite Joe Pesci movies:

  • 'Home Alone'

    In the 1990 classic Christmas movie, director Chris Columbus cast Pesci because he was one of his heroes. But he didn’t know how hilarious the actor would be. This remains one of our favorite and earliest memories of Pesci as an actor growing up. He and Daniel Stern were a perfect match as bozo burglars outwitted by Macaulay Culkin’s makeshift booby traps. To add to his intimidating aura against Culkin’s Kevin McCallister, Pesci deliberately avoided him on set because he wanted Culkin to think he was mean. Pesci kept forgetting that he was filming a family movie during his character’s outbursts, so most of his unintelligible mutterings were his way to avoid cursing.

  • 'Raging Bull'

    In this 1980 sports drama, co-star Robert De Niro accidentally broke Pesci’s rib in a sparring scene. The shot appeared in the film’s final cut where Pesci groans in pain after being punched. Despite the accidental breaking of bones, the two actors lived and trained with each other to achieve the feeling of brotherhood. Ever since then, the two have been very close friends. Additionally, in the famous “hit me” scene Pesci and De Niro were really punching each other. The actors went on to star alongside each other in six more movies following Raging Bull: Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Goodfellas (1990), A Bronx Tale (1993), Casino (1995), The Good Shepherd (2006), and The Irishman (2019).

  • 'Casino'

    Starring alongside Robert De Niro for the fourth time in the 1995 crime film, Pesci plays the role of mobster Nicky Santoro, who moves to Las Vegas with De Niro’s Ace Rothstein to make their mark. Most of the conversations between the two were improvised, so Pesci’s many iconic swear-ridden lines are that much more impactful. The role is iconic Joe Pesci — being ruthless, violent, and sharp.

  • 'My Cousin Vinny'

    Every film we’ve seen Joe Pesci in all has an essence of what we view him as: hilarious with a foul mouth. This 1992 crime-comedy has the actor portray a lawyer, who is his cousin’s last resort to avoid prison time for murder and robbery. With no trial experience, an uncompromising judge, and some tough locals, the challenge of winning the case looks bleak. Insecure and out of place in Alabama as he is, Pesci’s Vinny pulls it off, with tons of laughs and a movie we can watch over and over again. Following his serious roles in Goodfellas and JFK, Pesci getting back into comedy was the perfect opportunity to show that he can play a lead role and be more than just the bad guy.

  • 'Goodfellas'

    Not only is this one of our favorite Joe Pesci roles, but Goodfellas is one of our favorite movies of all time. In the 1990 biographical crime-drama, Pesci’s portrayal of real-life mobster Tommy DeSimone was almost entirely accurate, besides their differences in size (Pesci is 5’3″ while DeSimone was 6’4″). Pesci won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his depiction. Of course, the iconic “How am I funny?” scene is based on something that happened to Pesci in real life. When he was working in a restaurant, Pesci apparently told a mobster that he was funny, but that didn’t garner a positive response. When he told the story to Martin Scorsese, he decided to include it in the film.

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