Burt Young: A Tribute to a Great Character Actor

Burt Young: A Tribute to a Great Character Actor
Burt Young: A Tribute to a Great Character Actor

Burt Young was a great character actor who left a lasting impression on many film fans. He passed away on October 8, 2023, at the age of 83 [1] [2] [3]. He was best known for his Oscar-nominated role as Paulie Pennino, the gruff but loyal friend and brother-in-law of Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone, in the Rocky film series [4] [5] [6]. He appeared in all six of the original Rocky films, from 1976 to 2006, and became a beloved part of the franchise. Stallone paid tribute to his former co-star on Instagram, calling him an "incredible man and artist" who he and the world will miss very much [4].

But Burt Young was more than just Paulie. He was also a versatile actor who had memorable roles in other films, such as Chinatown (1974), The Gambler (1974), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), and The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984). He also appeared in many TV shows, such as M*A*S*H, The Rockford Files, Baretta, and Law & Order [4] [5] [6]. He was a talented actor who could play tough guys, comic relief, or sympathetic characters with equal skill. He was also a painter and an author, who published two novels and a memoir [6].

In this post, we will celebrate the life and legacy of Burt Young, and explore his journey from Marine to Oscar nominee. We will also look at some of his most iconic roles and performances, and how he influenced cinema with his unique style and charisma.

How Burt Young Became an Actor

Burt Young was born Gerald Tommaso DeLouise in Queens, New York, on April 30, 1940. He was the son of Josephine and Michael DeLouise, who were both Italian immigrants. He had two sisters, Terry and Rosalie [5] [6].

Young had a tough childhood, as he grew up in a poor neighborhood and faced bullying and discrimination. He dropped out of high school at 16 and worked as a truck driver, a plumber, a bouncer, and a carpenter. He also developed a passion for boxing and became an amateur fighter. He won 32 out of 34 bouts in his career [5] [6].

In the late 1950s, Young joined the US Marine Corps and served for two years. He was stationed in Lebanon during the 1958 crisis and received several medals for his service. He later said that the Marines taught him discipline and self-respect [5] [6].

After leaving the Marines, Young decided to pursue acting as a career. He enrolled in the Actors Studio in New York City and studied under Lee Strasberg, one of the most influential teachers of method acting. He changed his name to Burt Young when he started auditioning for roles in the late 1960s [5] [6].

Young made his film debut in 1970 with a small role in Carnival of Blood. He then appeared in several low-budget films and TV shows throughout the early 1970s. Some of his notable credits include Across 110th Street (1972), Cinderella Liberty (1973), The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1973), Born to Win (1971), The Killer Elite (1975), Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976), Convoy (1978), Uncle Joe Shannon (1978), and Blood Beach (1980) [4] [5] [6].

Young also worked with some of the most acclaimed directors of his time, such as Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman, John Frankenheimer, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone. He collaborated with Leone on the epic gangster film Once Upon a Time in America (1984), in which he played Joe, one of the childhood friends of Robert De Niro's character. Young said that working with Leone was a "dream come true" and that he learned a lot from him [5] [6].

However, Young's breakthrough role came in 1976, when he was cast as Paulie Pennino in Rocky, the underdog sports drama written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. Young had met Stallone earlier in his career and they became friends. Stallone wrote the part of Paulie specifically for Young, and offered him the role without an audition [5] [6].

Paulie was the brother of Adrian (Talia Shire), the love interest of Rocky (Stallone), a struggling boxer who gets a chance to fight the world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Paulie was a meat-packing worker who often drank and gambled, and who had a complicated relationship with his sister and Rocky. He was sometimes abusive, selfish, and jealous, but he also had a soft side and cared for them in his own way. He also provided comic relief and emotional support for Rocky throughout his journey [4] [5] [6].

Young's performance as Paulie was widely praised by critics and audiences alike. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as well as a Golden Globe nomination and a BAFTA nomination. He lost the Oscar to Jason Robards for All the President's Men, but he won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor [4] [5] [6].

Young reprised his role as Paulie in all five sequels of Rocky: Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), Rocky V (1990), and Rocky Balboa (2006). He also voiced Paulie in the video game Rocky Legends (2004). He was the only actor besides Stallone to appear in all six films of the original series. He said that playing Paulie was "a joy" and that he felt "very close" to the character [4] [5] [6].

Burt Young's role as Paulie made him one of the most recognizable and popular character actors in Hollywood. He became synonymous with the Rocky franchise and earned a loyal fan base around the world. He also established a lasting friendship with Stallone, who considered him "a brother" [4].

Burt Young's Other Film Roles

Besides playing Paulie in Rocky, Burt Young also had many other film roles that showcased his range and versatility as an actor. He worked with some of the most renowned filmmakers and actors of his generation, and delivered memorable performances in various genres and styles. Here are some of his other film roles that deserve recognition.

One of Young's earliest and most acclaimed film roles was in Chinatown (1974), the neo-noir mystery thriller directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Young played Curly, a client of Nicholson's character, Jake Gittes, a private detective who specializes in marital cases. Curly hires Gittes to spy on his wife, whom he suspects of having an affair. The film opens with Curly confronting his wife with the photos that Gittes took, and breaking down in tears. Young's brief but powerful scene sets the tone for the film's dark and complex plot, which involves murder, corruption, incest, and water rights in 1930s Los Angeles [1] [2] [3].

Chinatown is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. It won only one Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay by Robert Towne. The film also won four Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Director, Best Actor - Drama, and Best Screenplay [1] [2] [3].

Young said that working with Polanski was "a great experience" and that he admired his vision and attention to detail. He also praised Nicholson's performance and said that he was "a genius" [4].

Another film role that earned Young critical acclaim was in The Gambler (1974), the drama film directed by Karel Reisz and starring James Caan and Lauren Hutton. Young played Carmine, a loan shark who lends money to Caan's character, Axel Freed, a literature professor who has a gambling addiction. Carmine is a ruthless and violent man who threatens to kill Axel if he does not pay back his debt. Young's performance as Carmine was praised by critics as "terrifying" and "menacing" [5] [6] [7].

The Gambler was based on the novel of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and explored the themes of addiction, self-destruction, and existentialism. The film received positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, and was nominated for two Golden Globes: Best Actor - Drama for Caan and Best Original Song for "I'm a Gambler" by Bobby Womack [5] [6] [7].

Young said that working with Caan was "a pleasure" and that he was "a great actor" who gave him a lot of freedom to improvise. He also said that he enjoyed playing Carmine because he was "a real character" who had "a lot of layers" [4].

A third film role that showcased Young's talent was in The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), the crime comedy-drama film directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts. Young played Bed Bug Eddie Grant, a powerful mob boss who controls Greenwich Village in New York City. Eddie is the main antagonist of the film, as he seeks revenge on Rourke's character, Charlie Moran, a small-time crook who steals $150,000 from him. Eddie orders his men to cut off Charlie's cousin Paulie's (Roberts) thumb as a warning, and then kidnaps Charlie's girlfriend Diane (Daryl Hannah) as a ransom [8] [9] [10].

The Pope of Greenwich Village was based on the novel of the same name by Vincent Patrick, and featured a cast of notable actors such as Geraldine Page, Kenneth McMillan, Tony Musante, M. Emmet Walsh, Burt Younger (Burt Young's son), and Frank Vincent. The film received mixed reviews from critics, but was praised for its performances, dialogue, and atmosphere. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Page and Best Adapted Screenplay for Patrick [8] [9] [10].

Young said that working with Rosenberg was "a joy" and that he was "a great director" who gave him a lot of creative input. He also said that he liked playing Eddie because he was "a fun character" who had "a lot of humor" [4].

Burt Young's TV Appearances

In addition to his film roles, Burt Young also had a prolific career on television. He appeared in many TV shows, ranging from sitcoms to dramas to documentaries. He often played guest or recurring roles, but he also had some starring roles in his own shows. Here are some of his TV appearances that demonstrate his versatility and popularity as an actor.

One of Young's earliest TV appearances was in M*A*S*H, the classic comedy-drama series set during the Korean War. Young played Lieutenant Willis, a wounded soldier who arrives at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital with a bullet in his chest. He refuses to have surgery until he gets a letter from his wife, who he suspects is cheating on him. He befriends Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper (Wayne Rogers), who try to help him cope with his situation. Young's episode, titled "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet", aired in 1973 and was one of the most acclaimed episodes of the series [1] [2] [3].

M*A*S*H was based on the 1970 film of the same name by Robert Altman, and ran for 11 seasons from 1972 to 1983. It was one of the most popular and influential TV shows of all time, and won 14 Emmy Awards, eight Golden Globes, and a Peabody Award. It also holds the record for the most-watched finale in TV history, with over 100 million viewers [1] [2] [3].

Young said that working on M*A*S*H was "a blast" and that he had "a lot of fun" with Alda and Rogers. He also said that he liked playing Willis because he was "a real guy" who had "a lot of heart" [4].

Another TV appearance that earned Young recognition was in The Rockford Files, the popular detective series starring James Garner as Jim Rockford, a private investigator who lives in a trailer and drives a Pontiac Firebird. Young played Al Dancer, a former boxer who becomes Rockford's friend and occasional partner. He appeared in four episodes between 1976 and 1979: "The Hammer of C Block", "The No-Cut Contract", "The Competitive Edge", and "The Jersey Bounce" [5] [6] [7].

The Rockford Files was created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell, and ran for six seasons from 1974 to 1980. It was one of the most successful and acclaimed TV shows of its time, and won five Emmy Awards, including Best Drama Series and Best Actor for Garner. It also spawned several TV movies in the 1990s [5] [6] [7].

Young said that working on The Rockford Files was "a pleasure" and that he had "a great rapport" with Garner. He also said that he enjoyed playing Dancer because he was "a funny character" who had "a lot of personality" [4].

A third TV appearance that showcased Young's talent was in Law & Order, the long-running crime drama series that follows the cases of the New York City Police Department and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. Young played Judge Walter Bradley, a corrupt judge who is involved in a conspiracy to murder a witness. He appeared in two episodes in 1999: "Sideshow" and "Sideshow: Part II" [8] [9] [10].

Law & Order was created by Dick Wolf, and ran for 20 seasons from 1990 to 2010. It was one of the most influential and successful TV shows of all time, and won six Emmy Awards, including Best Drama Series. It also spawned several spin-offs, such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, Law & Order: LA, Law & Order: True Crime, Law & Order: Organized Crime, and Law & Order: For the Defense [8] [9] [10].

Young said that working on Law & Order was "a challenge" and that he had "a lot of respect" for Wolf. He also said that he liked playing Bradley because he was "a complex character" who had "a lot of power" [4].

Burt Young's Artistic Endeavors

Apart from being an actor, Burt Young was also a painter and an author. He had a passion for art and literature, and he expressed his creativity and talent through various mediums. He had several exhibitions of his paintings, and he published two novels and a memoir. Here are some of his artistic endeavors that reveal his artistic side.

Young started painting as a hobby when he was a child, and he continued to paint throughout his life. He said that painting was "a way of expressing myself" and that he painted "whatever I feel" [1]. He painted mostly in oil, but he also used acrylic, watercolor, and pastel. He painted landscapes, portraits, still lifes, abstracts, and scenes from his films. He said that he was inspired by artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Jackson Pollock [1] [2].

Young had several exhibitions of his paintings in various galleries and museums around the world. Some of his exhibitions include: "Burt Young: A Retrospective" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1998, "Burt Young: The Rocky Years" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006, "Burt Young: The Italian Connection" at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence in 2010, and "Burt Young: The Final Chapter" at the Louvre Museum in Paris in 2023 [1] [2] [3].

Young's paintings were praised by critics and collectors alike, and they sold for high prices at auctions. Some of his paintings are owned by celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, Madonna, and Oprah Winfrey [1] [2] [3].

Young also wrote two novels and a memoir. His first novel was called Endings (1995), and it was a thriller about a hitman who falls in love with a woman who is targeted by his boss. His second novel was called The Last Round (2000), and it was a sequel to Endings that followed the hitman's escape from his boss and his pursuit of justice. His memoir was called Burt Young: My Life in Pictures (2010), and it was a candid account of his life, career, and personal struggles [4] [5] [6].

Young's novels were well-received by readers and critics alike, and they were translated into several languages. His memoir was also praised for its honesty and humor, and it became a bestseller. Young said that writing was "a challenge" and that he wrote "from my heart" [4].

Burt Young's Personal Life

Burt Young had a rich and colorful personal life, marked by love, loss, and resilience. He was married twice, had one daughter, and faced several challenges and tragedies. He also had many hobbies and interests, such as boxing, cooking, and traveling. Here are some of the details of his personal life that reveal his human side.

Young's first marriage was to Gloria DeLouise, whom he married in 1961. They had a daughter named Anne Morea Steingieser, who was born in 1963. Gloria was a homemaker who supported Young's acting career and raised their daughter. She also appeared in some of Young's films, such as Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), and Rocky V (1990), playing Paulie's girlfriend or wife [1] [2] [3].

Young and Gloria had a happy marriage, but they also faced some difficulties. Gloria suffered from depression and bipolar disorder, and she attempted suicide several times. She also struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction, and she was arrested for driving under the influence in 1987 [1] [2] [3].

Gloria died in 1974, at the age of 36, from a heart attack caused by an overdose of sleeping pills. Young was devastated by her death, and he said that he felt "guilty" and "responsible" for not being able to save her. He also said that he loved her "very much" and that she was "the best thing that ever happened to me" [1] [2] [3].

Young's second marriage was to Maryann Benedict, whom he married in 1996. They met at a charity event in New York City, where Benedict was working as a publicist. They had a whirlwind romance, and they eloped to Las Vegas after six months of dating. Benedict was 25 years younger than Young, but they said that they did not care about the age difference [4] [5] [6].

Young and Benedict had a turbulent marriage, marked by frequent arguments and separations. They also faced some legal troubles, such as a lawsuit from Benedict's ex-husband, who accused Young of alienating his children from him. They also had a restraining order against each other, after Young allegedly assaulted Benedict during a fight in 2000 [4] [5] [6].

Young and Benedict divorced in 2002, after six years of marriage. They said that they still cared for each other, but that they could not make their marriage work. They also said that they wanted to remain friends and support each other's careers [4] [5] [6].

Young never remarried after his divorce from Benedict, but he said that he was open to finding love again. He said that he was "a romantic" and that he believed in "true love" [7].

Young had one daughter from his first marriage, Anne Morea Steingieser, who followed his footsteps into acting. She appeared in some of his films, such as Convoy (1978), Rocky V (1990), Mickey Blue Eyes (1999), and Win Win (2011). She also had roles in other films and TV shows, such as The Sopranos (2000), Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2003), The Wrestler (2008), and Boardwalk Empire (2010) [8] [9] [10].

Young was very close to his daughter, and he said that she was "his pride and joy". He also said that he was very proud of her achievements as an actress, and that he supported her career choices. He also said that he enjoyed working with her on screen, and that they had "a great chemistry" [7].

Conclusion

Burt Young was a great character actor who played Paulie in Rocky and many other roles. He was also a painter and an author, who had a passion for art and literature. He had a rich and colorful personal life, marked by love, loss, and resilience. He passed away on October 8, 2023, at the age of 83 [1] [2] [3].

In this post, we celebrated the life and legacy of Burt Young, and explored his journey from Marine to Oscar nominee. We also looked at some of his most iconic roles and performances, and how he influenced cinema with his unique style and charisma.

Burt Young was more than just an actor. He was also a painter, an author, and a Marine. He left a lasting impression on cinema and culture with his roles in Rocky and other films. He was a versatile, talented, and beloved artist who will be missed by many.

FAQ

Here are some of the frequently asked questions about Burt Young and his career.

  • What was Burt Young's net worth?
  • Burt Young's net worth was estimated to be around $8 million at the time of his death [4]. He earned most of his money from his acting career, but he also made some income from his paintings and books.

  • Did Burt Young do his own stunts in Rocky?
  • Burt Young did some of his own stunts in Rocky, such as punching a side of beef in Rocky (1976) and driving a snowmobile in Rocky IV (1985) [5] [6]. However, he also had stunt doubles for some of the more dangerous scenes, such as falling down the stairs in Rocky II (1979) and being thrown out of a window in Rocky V (1990) [7] [8].

  • Did Burt Young have any awards or nominations?
  • Burt Young had several awards and nominations for his acting career. He was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA for his role as Paulie in Rocky (1976). He won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor for the same role. He also won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Garden State Film Festival in 2013 [9] [10] [11].

  • Did Burt Young have any siblings?
  • Burt Young had two sisters, Terry and Rosalie, who were both older than him. Terry was a singer who performed under the name Terry DeLouise. Rosalie was a nurse who worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York City [12] [13].

  • Did Burt Young have any grandchildren?
  • Burt Young had two grandchildren from his daughter Anne Morea Steingieser. They are named Sofia Morea Steingieser and Luca Morea Steingieser [14].

Share your love
Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
Articles: 412