Joseph Frank Pesci was born February 9, 1943 in Newark, New Jersey to Italian American parents, and would live to become a film legend and icon in the portrayal of both Italian Americans and Jersey. The diminutive but clearly audible Pesci’s distinctive voice, mannerisms, actions and interests (including defense of the Pope) made him a prototype actor for the roles he’d portray in the 1980’s and 1990’s: rough-around-the-edges but seemingly sleek, a small man but big and explosive, and constant inspiration for the question, “What exit?”
Yet before Joe Pesci ever hit the bit screen (and then hit people with pistols) he made a huge impression on the music industry, as he was a big factor in the creation of the bada-binging group The Four Seasons. A musician at heart, Joe at one time played with another Jersey staple, Joey Dee and the Starliners, and the actor would retire as a musician in 1999.
Yet as much as Mr. Pesci would love to be known for his musical chops, he will forever be the paisan firebrand made famous alongside Robert DiNiro in a trio of Martin Scorcese films (Raging Bull , Goodfellas , and Casino ), and the epic Once Upon A Time in America ; and man who made personal injury attorneys lovable in his enchanting portrayal of Vincent LaGuardia Gambini in 1992’s My Cousin Vinny. Yet he was also a key performer or player in several blockbusters of the time, including Oliver Stone’s JFK, and the Lethal Weapon and Home Alone series. Who are we kidding though? Everyone loves Joe for being, well, Joe…
Whether being cracked in the skull with paint buckets, cracking skulls of wise-guys, or making wise-cracks under the guise of the law, Joe Pesci is an actor who helped define a genre (the mob film) and Italian-Americans everywhere in his roles (for better and for worse in the eyes of some). However knowing that roles and stereotypes are just that, you appreciate the passion and fervor with which Pesci acted. That same fervor shined in his love of all things Italian-American, and for that we raise a glass of sambuca and say to Joe, “Alla tua salute!” and Happy Birthday!