Joe Pesci

Joe Pesci in Goodfellas

Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas”

In the beginning, Joe Pesci – who was born in New Jersey – was a young song-and-dance man. A child actor, by his 20s he had released an album called Little Joe Sure Can Sing. He would pursue his little-known music career recording various songs and albums through the 2000s, but as a young entertainer, Joe was finding it difficult landing work in New York. He teamed with Frank Vincent to start a comedy-vaudeville routine, but the act fizzled. It would not be the last time those two would team up.

His first major screen role was in the 1976 Mafia film “The Death Collector.” Some years later, De Niro and Scorsese thought the actor who played Joe would be great for their character Joey in “Raging Bull.” They approached Pesci. At the age of 37, Joe Pesci was finally a working actor. He functions best in a supporting role, is part of Sergio Leone’s magisterial “Once Upon a Time in America” in 1984, and was utilized by Richard Donner in “Lethal Weapon 2” as Leo Getz in 1989. The 90s proved to be the decade Joe was waiting for.

Re-teaming with Scorsese and De Niro in 1990’s “Goodfellas” provided Joe with the role generally considered as his best. As Tommy DeVito, Joe has some of the more memorable dialogue moments in the film, including his improvised “How am I funny?” scene, and the result was Joe Pesci’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He did a comedic turn that same year in “Home Alone,” and in 1991 was brilliant as David Ferrie in Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” Never veering too far from tried and true material, he stuck close to those who got him to the top. He has a small part in the De Niro-directed “A Bronx Tale,” and returns for a third collaboration with Scorsese in “Casino.” A couple of comedies in the late 90s (“8 Heads in a Duffle Bag” and “Gone Fishin”) failed to find an audience, and after “Lethal Weapon 4,” Joe was not seen on the screen for eight years – until a one scene appearance for his old friend De Niro in “The Good Shepherd.” Knowing his range and knowing his place, Joe Pesci is content.

In 2019, Pesci starred opposite De Niro in “The Irishman.”

ALSO: See how Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito fared in our Badass Bracket!

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Joe on the Screen

His acting debut was at the age of 18 in the 1961 movie “Hey, Let’s Twist,” where Joe appears as an uncredited Dancer at the Peppermint Club. But it would be 15 years before Joe would get another part in a film, and that would be “The Death Collector” in 1976. While it didn’t give him instant notice, it was seen by Robert De Niro. This led to “Raging Bull,” in which Joe is Jake La Motta’s younger brother, Joey. Joe follows with “I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can” in 1982, “Dear Mr. Wonderful” one year later, and opposite Rodney Dangerfield in “Easy Money.” He’s Frankie Minaldi in “Once Upon a Time in America,” works with “Gene Hackman” in Eureka, Rocky Nelson in the TV movie “Half Nelson” (which led to a short-lived series), David in “Man on Fire,” and Mr. Big in Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker.” In 1989, he played Leo Getz in “Lethal Weapon 2,” which he would reprise in 1992 and 1998. The 1990s was his breakout decade: he wins an Oscar as Tommy DeVito for “Goodfellas,” is Harry in the first two “Home Alone” films, David Ferrie in “JFK,” and Vinny Gambini in the comedy “My Cousin Vinny.” Joe’s the lead in “Jimmy Hollywood” by Barry Levinson, and is homeless Simon Wilder in “With Honors,” both in 1994. The following year he’s back with Scorsese and De Niro in “Casino,” and in 1997 he’s in the comedies “8 Heads in a Duffle Bag” and “Gone Fishin.” He returns in 2006 with a cameo in De Niro’s “The Good Shepherd.”

Joe Says

On the industry:
“I couldn’t get any jobs, and when that happens, you get so humble it’s disgusting. I didn’t feel like a man anymore – I felt really creepy. I was bumping into walls and saying, ‘’Excuse me.’”