Frank Vincent, Mobster on ‘The Sopranos’ and in ‘Goodfellas,’ Dies at 80

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Ike Turner

Jul 17, 2011
South San Jose

Frank Vincent, whose tough-guy looks brought him steady work as a character actor in film and television for four decades, including mobster roles on “The Sopranos” and in “Goodfellas,” died on Wednesday in New Jersey. He was 80.

His death was confirmed by his family, which did not specify the cause or say where in New Jersey he died.

Though some websites list Mr. Vincent’s birth year as 1939, John A. Gallagher, who directed him in the movies “Street Hunter” and “The Deli,” said Mr. Vincent had long identified himself as being younger to avoid the age discrimination common in Hollywood.

Frank Vincent Gattuso was born on April 15, 1937, in North Adams, Mass., to Frank and Mary Gattuso and raised in Jersey City. His first forays into show business were as a drummer, playing in nightclubs and on recordings with the singers Paul Anka and Trini Lopez.
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He made his film debut in 1976 in “The Death Collector,” whose cast also included his friend Joe Pesci, a fellow musician. (Mr. Pesci plays guitar.) The two had once worked up a comedy act.

Among those who took note of “The Death Collector” was Martin Scorsese, who cast both Mr. Vincent and Mr. Pesci in “Raging Bull” (1980), about the boxer Jake LaMotta, and, a decade later, “Goodfellas.”

That film gave Mr. Vincent perhaps his most memorable line, in the role of Billy Batts, a mobster who profanely invites Mr. Pesci’s character to go home and get his shine box, an insult that proved fatal. Mugs and T-shirts emblazoned with the line were soon being sold.

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The character of Billy Batts made such an impression that it kept him off “The Sopranos,” at least at first, Mr. Vincent told an interviewer. He originally auditioned for the pilot of that series, created by David Chase, which began its long run on HBO in 1999. Dominic Chianese and Tony Sirico auditioned with him.

“They got hired and I didn’t,” Mr. Vincent said in a 2006 interview. “David now in retrospect says he didn’t want to hire me at that time because ‘Goodfellas’ was too popular and the character Billy Batts was too known to put him into that mix.”

Mr. Vincent was brought into the cast in 2004 as Phil Leotardo, a crime boss. The character appeared in more than 30 episodes, ultimately meeting a gruesome end.