“Goodfellas” would probably always have been the first thing Paul Sorvino would be remembered for – no matter how many roles he has played on stage, screen and television, no matter how many other careers he has had, from opera singer to painter to poet and pasta sauce entrepreneur, he explored a rich public life.
But the sad, striking coincidence that Sorvino, who died Monday morning at the age of 83, almost exactly two months to the day after the unexpected death of his “Goodfellas” co-star Ray Liotta at 26, is on everyone’s lips – if it is that wasn’t already.
However, local residents who know that Sorvino’s ties to Scranton and Poconos date back to the 1980s may disagree. You better remember his kindness and larger than life personality.
“He was right out there,” said Bob Schlesinger, executive director of the Scranton Public Theatre, who first met Sorvino in 1982 when the actor came to Scranton to film “That Championship Season,” a 1972 Pulitzer Prize adaptation and Tony Theater. Award-winning play written by Electric City’s Jason Miller (aka Father Karras in The Exorcist).
“During filming, when some roads were closed, he walked down the street and sang an operatic aria… He had no trouble opening his lungs. He had asthma (in his 20s) and in order to fight the disease he had to open his lungs, so he sang a lot impromptu.”
Schlesinger, who co-founded the Pennsylvania Summer Theater Festival with Miller in 1978, had a small role in the film starring Sorvino, Robert Mitchum, Bruce Dern, Martin Sheen and Stacy Keach as a group of former high school basketball champions returning home for the 20 reunion years after winning the state championship.
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Sorvino has been credited for his work on Law & Order, Men with Guns, Once Upon a Time in Queens and Kill the Irishman as real-life mobster Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno.
He’s also been a mentor to rising Hollywood hopes.
Over the years, Sorvino, who was close friends with Miller, would stop around town at the Public Theater.
“When I asked him to talk to a young person who wanted to be an actor, he always said, ‘I have no problem with that,'” Schlesinger recalls. “He took some of the students aside and shared his experiences. I felt it was a good thing for him to do.”
In 2008, Sorvino took the stage in one of his final off-screen appearances in Scranton – to attend the unveiling of a sculpture he made of Miller, who died in 2001. The statue stands in the Piazza dell’ Arte at Courthouse Square.
A house in the West End
When it came time to trade city life for something a little slower, Sorvino turned to another friend, Bill McAndrew, for help. McAndrew, a publicist and historian who died in 2018, convinced Sorvino to be sworn in as an honorary deputy sheriff of Lackawanna County in the 1980s.
In 2000, he bought his Gilbert home for just $325,000.
“I really like the area,” Sorvino told the Record at the time. “It’s good for the nerves,” he added of the quieter West End setting.
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Sorvino, along with his daughter Amanda, ran a horse and dog rescue on the 58-acre property, which featured three barns and stunning views of the Pocono Mountains.
He sold the home just prior to the 2008 real estate crash, and after filming and directing the film The Trouble with Cali, shot it primarily in 2006 in Lackawanna and Monroe counties.
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Shari Hamil, who worked as a real estate agent at the time, was among those who showed the house to potential clients.
“He was polite. A real gentleman. I didn’t know how big he was until I met him.”
man about the city
In fact, it was hard not to notice the 6-foot-4 actor when he was out shopping or running errands, locals say.
In addition to dining at Scranton restaurants like Preno’s and Farley’s Eatery and Pub, Sorvino also frequented Pocono restaurants like Sarah Street Grill in Stroudsburg and the former Peppe’s in Eastburg.
His favorite spots included the now-closed Rizzo’s Italian Deli in Brodheadsville and Piccola Venezia Ristorante, where he prepared an Italian Christmas dinner for his family in 2000.
Much like chef Paulie Cicero in Goodfellas, Sorvino had no qualms about taking on the kitchen of a restaurant—perhaps in search of the perfect sauce.
“Paul Sorvino was well known among the staff at a handful of Scranton Italian restaurants for showing up unannounced, going back into the kitchen and cooking on line for the night.” @Real_JoeNathan continued to write Twitter.
Many Record readers say that despite his no-nonsense on-screen personality, Sorvino was actually a sweetheart.
Lisa Rowe once met the Hollywood star, who was being accompanied to classes by a younger relative, at Melody’s Dance Studio in Lehighton.
“He was such a sweet man, down to earth. He would sit with us, Mom and Dad, waiting for class to end and chatting like any normal guy,” she said.
Theresa Neyhart got a peck on the cheek from the actor while working at the AAA Motor Club in Stroudsburg.
“He came into the travel agency to book his trips and I took passport photos of him a couple of times. When he first walked in and I recognized him, I ran to one of the girls, I was so excited,” she recalls. “As soon as he sat down to take his picture, I jumped onto his lap and let them take our picture together. He was such a good player, we laughed and he kissed me on the cheek. Paul was so nice and always had a smile on his face. If I saw him in a few other places, he would come up to me and say hello. I’m sure he will be greatly missed by many.”
Born in 1939, Sorvino grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and studied singing for several years before making his Broadway debut in 1964.
He began his film career in 1970 and appeared in Al Pacino’s groundbreaking 1971 film The Panic in Needle Park.
But for Schlesinger, it was his starring role on Broadway in That Championship Series (Sorvino was nominated for a Tony in 1973) that catapulted his career.
“He was a gifted performer. [Sorvino] shaped his craft to the point where he was able to build a very high profile career in show business.”
Jim Beckerman contributed to this.
Micaela Hood is a feature reporter for Pocono Record and the USA TODAY Mid-Atlantic Region features team. Reach her at [email protected]