Frank Vin­cent

Star of the ‘The So­pra­nos’ rose through the show­biz ranks from club drum­mer to movie mob­ster with Joe Pesci

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Deaths and Obiituaries -

FRANK VIN­CENT, who died last Wed­nes­day, aged 80, was an Ital­ian-Amer­i­can ac­tor best known for play­ing psy­chotic killers and mob­sters.

He played many tough-guy roles for Martin Scors­ese, star­ring along­side Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in Rag­ing Bull (1980), Casino (1995) and Good­fel­las (1990), in which his char­ac­ter, ex-jail­bird Billy Batts, un­wisely tells the diminu­tive but psy­cho­pathic Tommy De­Vito (Joe Pesci) to “Go home and get your f ***** g [shoe] shine box” — and gets shoved into a car trunk.

To tele­vi­sion view­ers, how­ever, he be­came fa­mil­iar as Phil “The Hair Do” Leo­tardo, the sil­ver-coiffed neme­sis of Tony So­prano (James Gan­dolfini) in the hit HBO se­ries The So­pra­nos. The char­ac­ter first ap­peared in 2004 and lasted more than 30 episodes be­fore meet­ing a grisly end at a petrol sta­tion where, af­ter be­ing shot in the head by a mem­ber of a ri­val gang, his wife’s SUV idles for­ward and crushes his skull.

Vin­cent claimed to have got into char­ac­ter by draw­ing on his back­ground as a mu­si­cian and stand-up comic play­ing the bars and clubs of New Jersey, many of them owned and run by the sort of hood­lums he por­trayed on screen.

“These guys had great tai­lored dress shirts with mono­grams on the sleeves,” he re­called. “This is what I was em­u­lat­ing at an early age. Plus, they had a lot of swag­ger and were uni­fied. That was a big in­flu­ence.”

He was born Frank Vin­cent Gat­tuso in North Adams, Mas­sachusetts, on April 15, 1937. Later the fam­ily moved to Jersey City, where his fa­ther Frank ran a cloth­ing fac­tory and a petrol sta­tion. Frank Sr was also an am­a­teur ac­tor, and en­cour­aged his son to take mu­sic lessons. Vin­cent be­gan ap­pear­ing in school plays and learnt the trum­pet and drums.

Af­ter leav­ing school aged 16, he took a job at his fa­ther’s garage, be­fore de­cid­ing to try his luck as a mu­si­cian.

He picked up work as a drum­mer, play­ing in night­clubs and as a ses­sion mu­si­cian. Fi­nally he formed the Arist-o-cats, a trio with a bass player and a gui­tarist from Ne­wark named Joe Pesci. In between songs, Vin­cent and Pesci would trade jokey in­sults; even­tu­ally they be­came a com­edy team, play­ing tiny North Jersey clubs, “where peo­ple are drink­ing, and no one is lis­ten­ing, and you had to learn how to get their at­ten­tion”.

Vin­cent re­called one par­tic­u­lar night when one of the club mem­bers ap­proached the stage and qui­etly told the pair they re­ally, re­ally should stop mak­ing fun of his girl­friend’s hat. The gun in his waist­band con­vinced them to take his ad­vice.

Vin­cent and Pesci made their film de­but in 1976 in the low-bud­get gang­ster movie, Death Col­lec­tor, which caught the eye of Martin Scors­ese, who cast them in Rag­ing Bull, Vin­cent as a hench­man who gets beaten up by Pesci.

Some for­mer as­so­ciates were not im­pressed,

Vin­cent re­called: “They didn’t like it when Joe beat me up. ‘Why’d you let that lit­tle guy beat you up?’ And this one guy, Blackie some­thing, I don’t re­mem­ber his name, but I re­mem­ber him say­ing, ‘What is it with the f ***** g lan­guage in that pic­ture?’ And, I thought, this guy’s killed nine guys and he’s con­cerned about the lan­guage?”

Pesci also gave his friend a beat­ing in Good­fel­las, though Vin­cent man­aged to re­turn the favour in Casino.

Vin­cent ap­peared in more than 50 films, also work­ing with Brian De Palma, Spike Lee, John Sayles and Sid­ney Lumet. In 2006, he co-wrote A Guy’s Guide to Be­ing a Man’s Man.

He is sur­vived by his wife Kath­leen and their three chil­dren.

MU­SIC MAN: Frank Vin­cent be­come bet­ter known as an ac­tor

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