The True Story Of Ray Liotta Being The Most Relatable Gangster In America

I’ve never understood those who openly weep and mourn for celebrities. I mean, it’s different if they knew them personally, but in majority of cases it’s just hoards of bereft people erecting vigils in namesake of the recently departed [insert celebrity here]. On the news they are usually seen in mass, singing or leaving messages on signage, or standing within a sea of candel light — which is all well and fine. I’m more referring to the outward deluge of emotional display, the stuff outside that of empathetic rationale.

To fortify my naive position, a brief anecdotal for you; in August of 1997, I was a gangly fourteen year old boy, held up in his room, likely playing Goldeneye for the N64. My mother, a woman who held what she believed to be prim and proper British beliefs, carried with her from merry old England, sat downstairs, sipping tea and smoking feverishly while watching her stories.

Before long, my adolescent ears were met with an unholy, heart stopping shriek, as shrill as anything my young ears had ever heard. With immediacy, I paused my game and withdrew to the downstairs. I had no idea what had happened, but I knew the horrid sound had emanated from my mother, and that was all the call to action I needed.

When reaching the bottom of the stairs, my mother had spilled her tea, and ash had overtaken the length of her lit cigarette. My mother’s face was contorted by what I now know to be harrowing acceptance of loss, but at that time, that mortified expression of incredulity caused fright within me that I’d rarely known by that age.

I began asking my mum what had happened. I placed an awkward hand to her shoulder and pried for answers. She turned and looked at me, her eyes beleaguered by tears, and through quivering breath and broken timber, she spoke…

“Princess Diana died. She’s dead.”

My immediate return was that of consolation and attempted reassurance, but after several intervals of feeling my mother’s bouncing shoulders grieve against my hand, I had to ask… “did you know her, mum?” She sobbed once or twice more before responding.

“No. I just can’t believe it — she’s dead.”

It was as though she had answered my befuddled query, and instantly returned to untamed mourning — but for a woman she’d never met, never spoken to nor even shared a glance with — how could this be a thing?

Now, fast forward to present, I am a thirty-nine year old portly man (who still enjoys a good videogame), that still maintains that obfuscation toward those who mourn boisterously the loss of esteemed celebrity figures.

That is until today…

Today, May twenty-sixth of two-thousand and twenty-two, I begin my day like any other, I roll from bed, my aching body laments from years spent in the army and then working in the ditches and roadways picking up the dead and crying (I was a paramedic for fifteen years), I lumber to the bathroom, brush my teeth, splash water on my face, let free a cacophonous fart, and ready myself for the day ahead. But before doing that, I retrieve my phone from the nightstand and begin to scroll the endless loop that is social media.

Before long, I am halted by a headline that I am certain is fake — that is until I vet it for myself — and unbelievably, it turns out to be real.

“Actor Ray Liotta, dead at 67.”

Now, while I didn’t breakdown and begin to cry, I was, for the first time in my life, held captive by a moment of stillness by the death of someone I’ve never known. And that’s when realization befell me — part of me FELT as though I DID know him! At least, his characters anyway.

You see, I love heist films and gangster movies. Something about their nod to old-time film making enamored me as a boy and still does in manhood. And Ray Liotta was the consumate gangster. The guy who made it seem plausible to join the mafia. An everyday guy, average looks, relatable physique, and a “try-to-be-good” disposition, even if it didn’t always work out.

I’ll fully admit, after reading the news of his passing, all previous judgements against those who mourned their own “known” celebrities fell away from me. In fact, I felt somewhat bashful for ever having castigated them to begin with. Who am I to judge someone else’s sense of loss or grief…?

I’ll tell you who I’m most certainly not though — Henry Hill — or, more accurately, Henry Hill as portrayed by the always charismatic, Ray Liotta. His depiction of Hill in the timeless masterpiece, Goodfellas, was where my contemplative curiosity at the plausible notion of joining the mafia was born. He made it seem so reasonable, possible and relatable; just a guy who started out by trying to do right by his family. Of course that’s not how things ended up, but hey, that’s mob life, babe.

Outside of all his characters, Ray also donated copious amounts of money to charities such as cancer research. A charity near and dear to me as my mother battled that perfidious beast throughout my formative years — many nights spent in hospital rooms, listening to the staccato of beeping machines and call-bells. If I could have called in a hit on anything, it would have been a contract on the big “C”.

I guess it’s safe to say that Ray, sorry, Mr. Liotta, really was… a good fella.

Your talents will be missed, sir.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go slick my hair back, button up my pressed white linen blend, don a sharp tie and spend the day paying homage to America’s most relatable gangster, by watching the Goodfellas…. while a Nerf gun rests concealed in my back waistband.

Hey, Ray… get outta here!

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