'The Perfect Character Actor,' Rocky's Paulie Dies

Burt Young, who appeared in more than 160 titles, died Oct. 8, his daughter confirms
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 19, 2023 9:25 AM CDT
'The Perfect Character Actor,' Rocky's Paulie Dies
Sylvester Stallone, left, star of the movie "Rocky Balboa," and cast member Burt Young attend the film's premiere in Philadelphia, Dec. 18, 2006.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Actor Burt Young, who appeared in every Rocky movie and earned an Academy Award nomination for his initial appearance as Paulie Pennino, has died. The 83-year-old died Oct. 8 in Los Angeles, his daughter confirms to the New York Times. He led a fascinating life that included careers as a Marine, a professional boxer, an actor, and an artist. Born Gerald Tommaso DeLouise in Queens, New York, on April 30, 1940, the Italian American dropped out of school to join the Marines, where he first took up boxing, at the age of 15, per Variety. He served from 1957 to 1959, then trained under boxing coach Cus D'Amato, who also coached Mike Tyson. He finished his boxing career with a 17-1 record. He then studied with famed acting teacher Lee Strasberg for two years, per Deadline.

He went on to appear in more than 160 films and TV shows, including films The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971), Cinderella Liberty (1973), Chinatown (1974), Uncle Joe Shannon (1978), Convoy (1978), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), Back to School (1986), Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989), Mickey Blue Eyes (1999), and Transamerica (2005), as well as in the TV series The Sopranos, Law & Order, and M-A-S-H. He often played the tough guy, per Deadline. He was "the perfect character actor" with "a way of taking a thug or a goon or a mug and giving him more personality, more sympathy, somehow, than the role deserved," writes Variety's Carmel Dagan.

Young was best known, however, for his role in the Rocky films alongside his friend Sylvester Stallone. He played Pennino, Rocky's friend and future brother-in-law, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in 1977. Stallone paid tribute to his "dear friend" in an Instagram post on Wednesday. "You were an incredible man's [sic] and artist, I and the world will miss you very much," the Rocky creator wrote. Though he continued acting regularly into the 2010s, Young also launched a career as an artist and exhibited paintings in galleries around the world, the BBC reports. His wife, Gloria, died in 1974. He is survived by a brother, daughter, and grandson. (More obituary stories.)

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