Date of Birth: February 9, 1943
A phone call changed Joe Pesci's life.
The son of working class parents in Newark, New Jersey, Pesci began performing on stage when he was only five and by the time he was 10 years old he was a regular on a TV variety show called Startime Kids. In his early 20s, Pesci was supporting himself as a nightclub singer and even pressed a few albums under the name of Joe Ritchie. A man of many talents, Pesci moved on playing guitar with a band called Joey Dee and the Starlighters before hooking up with Frank Vincent in a night club comedy act that they toured around.
But it was Pesci's performance in a low budget film shot in New Jersey in 1975 called The Death Collector that led to the phone call that changed his life. After appearing in this film, Pesci headed west to try his luck in Hollywood. "In coming to Hollywood," he says, "there are all the frustrations trying to get in. You just have to be lucky." But the luck he got on the West Coast was mostly bad.
While in Hollywood making the rounds of auditions and hoping for a break, he worked as a barber, postal clerk and grocer's helper, which weren't quite the roles he envisioned for himself when he made the trip west. Dejected, he moved back to New Jersey and had just about decided to give up on being an actor when the phone rang. It was Robert De Niro on the other end who'd happened to catch Pesci's act in The Death Collector and wondered if he'd like to try out for a role in Raging Bull. Of course he would. He got the role, that of Jake LaMotta's (De Niro) brother. He also got an Oscar nomination for his efforts, an award he would later win for his role in Goodfellas.
In 1993, he won an American Comedy Award for his hilarious performance in My Cousin Vinny. He performed in several major motion pictures over the next few years, then took a break after Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), returning to the screen in 2006 in The Good Shepherd, directed by De Niro. After another four-year break, he starred opposite Helen Mirren in Love Ranch (2010).
Another lengthy break from acting followed, before he reappeared in the Netflix film The Irishman (2019), directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The wait was worth it, as he received this third Academy Award nomination for his work in the movie, as well as his second nomination from the BAFTAs and third at the Golden Globes, in addition to his first Screen Actors Guild nomination.
Joe has a daughter, Tiffany, with second ex-wife, Claudia Haro. He also has a daughter from his first marriage.