Famous Italian Americans Heritage

The Italian-American Community Suffers Another Loss: Paul Sorvino

It has been a rough few weeks for the Italian-American community; especially for New Jersey. We have suffered losses of some of our favorite sons. Sadly, today we lost another acting giant who was incredibly proud of his Italian heritage; actor, opera singer, writer, and artist, Paul Sorvino.

Born in New York, Mr. Sorvino made Teaneck his home as an adult. His mother was of Molise descent, his father, a Neapolitan immigrant. Mr. Sorvino attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and had thoughts of becoming an opera singer before making his Broadway debut in the mid-1960s. His professional acting career began in 1970.

Chris Noth, Paul Sorvino, Michael Moriarty, and Richard Brooks of Law and Order
(left to right) Chris Noth, Paul Sorvino, Michael Moriarty, and Richard Brooks of Law and Order (credit: IMDB)

Most people will remember him as the tough, but quiet mob boss, Paulie Cicero, in Goodfellas. In his most famous scene, Paulie thinly cuts garlic with a razor blade so it would liquify the pan with a little olive oil while doing a stint behind bars. “It was a good system.”

For me though, my favorite character was the straight-shooting detective, Sergeant Phil Cerreta, during seasons two and three of Law and Order. The first several seasons of Law and Order were the best. They had that gritty New York look we Gen-Xers remember; before Times Square was owned by Disney. When there was an edge to New York City.

Mr. Sorvino left after two seasons, concerned about the care of his voice for opera singing.

Incredibly proud of his Italian heritage, Mr. Sorvino was fluent in Italian. I actually wonder if he was fluent in Neapolitan as well. In July 2004, he was awarded the “Premio per gli Italiani nel Mondo” at a ceremony in Rome. The prize is distributed by the Marzio Tremaglia Foundation and the Italian government to Italian emigrants and their descendants who have distinguished themselves abroad. At the ceremony, he performed the Neapolitan song “Torna a Surriento” with tenor Andrea Bocelli.

In a 2011 interview, he spoke of his pride in being an Italian-American, the fact that he has been knighted and honored by the Pope, that his family’s coat of arms dates to 1150 and that, like countless other Italian-American families, his also is full of achievers: doctors, lawyers, contributing citizens.

Also, like many of us, he hated that “shore show that shall not be named.”

“That’s a small stratum of Italian-American life, and it purports to represent the 27 or 28 million Italian- Americans, and of course, it doesn’t,” he said… “It makes New Jersey look terrible, and it’s nothing like that.”

Thank you Mr. Sorvino. Thank you for your contributions as an actor, a singer, an artist, and as an advocate for your heritage.

Rest easy. We’ll take it from here.

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