Frank Vincent enjoyed a decades-long career as one of the more prominent members of a very specific fraternity of actors: Those of Italian-American descent, from the general vicinity of New York City, who frequently starred in mostly New York-set gangster films, either as a cop or criminal.
Not all of these actors got much work outside of that milieu, nor did all of them have prominent roles in the most seminal mob movies of the last three decades. But Vincent did both: While his portfolio of parts was dynamic, he was best known for iconic roles in both Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino, as well as in the later seasons of The Sopranos.
Frank Vincent died Wednesday at the age of 78, Variety reported, citing a Facebook post by fellow former Sopranos actor Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore. Vincent’s death came following complications from a heart procedure.
Vincent - given name Frank Vincent Gattuso Jr. - was born in North Adams, Mass., in 1939, although he was raised primarily in Jersey City, N.J., across the river from New York. He originally pursued a career as a musician, but began acting in the mid-‘70s. His first film was a mob movie called The Death Collector, in which he co-starred for the first of many times with Joe Pesci. His next role was an all-time classic: Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, in 1980, in which he appeared with Pesci and Robert De Niro.
Vincent appeared in lots of New York-set films throughout the ‘80s, inside and outside of the gangster genre; he appeared in The Pope of Greenwich Village, Wise Guys, and Last Exit to Brooklyn, as well as a small role in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.
But Vincent’s most iconic role was as gangster Billy Batts in Scorsese’s Goodfellas, in 1990. He has a classic scene opposite Pesci- the legendary “Go get your shinebox” scene - and that’s his body in the back of trunk of the car. He would work with Scorsese again five years later, in Casino.
Vincent would visit the heights of the mob genre again with his part of New York mobster Phil Leotardo, a major antagonist of Tony Soprano in the later seasons of The Sopranos. Vincent appeared in 31 episodes of the series, memorably getting whacked in the show’s series finale. Like a lot of East Coast-based actors, Vincent regularly appeared on the various Law & Order series, and voiced the mobster Salvatore Leone in the Grand Theft Auto video game series.
Vincent’s final completed role appears to be the TV series Mr. Pickles, in which he played a character named Jon Gabagooli; his IMDB page lists several projects in pre-production.