LOS ANGELES – Burt Young, the Oscar-nominated actor who played Paulie, the gruff, mumbling and whiny best friend, corner man and brother-in-law of Sylvester Stallone in the “Rocky” franchise, has died.
Young died Oct. 8 in Los Angeles, his daughter, Anne Moriah Stengeser, said The New York Times Wednesday. No reason was given. He was 83 years old.
Young has had roles in popular films and television shows including “Chinatown,” “Once Upon a Time in America” and “The Sopranos.”
But he was always best known for playing the role of Paulie Benigno in six films of the “Rocky” series. Short, stocky, bald, Young was the kind of actor who always looked like he was playing middle-aged no matter his age.
When Paulie first appeared in 1976’s “Rocky,” he was an angry, rude meatpacking man who abused his sister Adrienne (Talia Shire), with whom he shared a small apartment in Philadelphia. He berates the shy and meek Adrian for initially refusing to go on a Thanksgiving Eve date with his friend and co-worker Rocky Balboa, and destroys a turkey she has in the oven.
The film became a phenomenon, topping the year’s box office and making a star for lead actor and writer Stallone, who praised Young for his Instagram Wednesday night.
Alongside a photo of the two on the set of the first film, Stallone wrote: “You were an amazing man and artist. The world and I will miss you so much.”
“Rocky” was nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for Young. It won three awards, including Best Picture. The young star and co-star Burgess Meredith, who was also nominated, lost out to Jason Robards in “All the President’s Men.”
As the films went on, Young Paulie softened, as did the sequels themselves, and became their comedic relief. In the 1985 film “Rocky IV,” he reprograms the robot that Rocky transformed into a servant with a sexy voice that he is passionate about.
Paulie was also always a pessimist and was always convinced that Rocky would be beaten by his increasingly fearsome opponents. His surprise at Rocky’s flexibility caused great laughter.
“It’s been an amazing journey, and it’s brought me to the public in a wonderful way,” Young said in a 2020 interview with Celebrity Parents magazine. “You’ve made him a tough, sensitive man. He’s really Marshmallow even though he screams a lot.
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Young served in the Marines, fought as a professional boxer and worked as a carpetbagger before taking up acting, studying with legendary teacher Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.
On stage, in films and television, he usually played small-time tough guys or down-on-his-luck working-class men.
In a brief but memorable scene in the 1974 film “Chinatown,” he plays a fisherman who throws a tantrum when Jack Nicholson’s private investigator, Jake Gates, shows him photos proving his wife is cheating on him.
Young also appeared in director Sergio Leone’s 1984 epic gangster film “Once Upon a Time in America” with Robert De Niro, the 1986 comedy “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield, and the gritty 1989 drama “Last Exit to Brooklyn With Jennifer Jason Leigh. .
In a notable appearance in the third season of The Sopranos in 2001, he played Bobby Baccalieri Sr., an elderly mafia member with lung cancer who makes one last hit before a coughing fit kills him in a car crash.
In later life, he focused on roles in theater and painting, a lifelong pursuit that led to gallery performances and sales.
His wife Gloria died at the age of 13 in 1974.
With his daughter, Young left one grandson and a brother named Robert.
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