Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
When people hear the name Joe Pesci, one of two images immediately comes to mind: his iconic portrayal of Vinny Gambini in My Cousin Vinny or his Academy Award-winning portrayal of Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas. Hollywood seems to have pigeonholed Pesci into roles as tough guys and wise guys who dabble in varying degrees of criminal activity, but how can we blame them? He's crazy good at it. That's why fans were so surprised when Pesci abandoned his highly-decorated acting career near its peak in 1999 and announced he would be stepping away from the movie business... to pursue a music career, apparently. (We totally heard your "What?!" just now.)
Yes, there is more to Pesci than the lowlifes and mobsters he plays on the silver screen. Perhaps he simply wanted to get out while the getting was good. Or maybe he was tired of the typecasting and headed for the door after a string of films like the Home Alone and Lethal Weapon franchises and 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. The actor told the New York Times in 1992, "I love to star in movies, but I want to have good roles. It doesn't help to get starring roles in something that's no good. I mean, that will just kill you." Thankfully, he returned for an offer he couldn't refuse to play Russell Bufalino in The Irishman, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor. But how did Pesci spend his days during the 20-year period between his quasi-retirement and his comeback? Here's what we found.
Jazz is a big part of Joe Pesci's legacy
The music career Joe Pesci left acting to pursue is totally legit. The man can croon a jazz tune with the best of them, and Pesci isn't a Johnny-come-lately on the jazz scene; he's been at it for more than 50 years. Biography reports he played guitar in the '60s with the band Јоеу Dее аnd thе Ѕtаrlіtеrѕ at the famous Peppermint Lounge. In 1968, he recorded his first album, Lіttlе Јое Ѕurе Саn Ѕіng, under the pseudonym "Joe Ritchie." He released an album in 2003 with Joey Defrancesco entitled Falling in Love Again, this time using the pseudonym "Joe Doggs." And his 2019 album, Pesci... Still Singing, includes two duets with Adam Levine, and was published under Pesci's real name.
Everything he records is not as sublime as jazz, though. He has a goofy single called "Wise Guy," in which he raps about a mafia gangster persona. The song was on his 1998 Vincent Laguardia Gambini Sings just for You album, which set his My Cousin Vinny character to music. His comedic skills aren't just for Hollywood, but Pesci's music is no joke.
Switching gears yet again, Pesci recorded an out-of-this-world cover of "The Nearness of You" in 2017 with legendary jazz singer Jimmy Scott. As Scott put it, he and Pesci "used to run these streets [of Newark, New Jersey] together." These two yutes must have been quite a hurricane.
Goodfellas Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro are good friends
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro go way back. De Niro "discovered" Pesci after being impressed by his work in The Death Collector, the New York Times reports. De Niro brought Pesci to the attention of Martin Scorsese, who then cast him in Raging Bull (and Goodfellas and Casino). Though Pesci had sworn off acting, he couldn't resist working with his old pal again and came out of retirement to appear in The Good Shepherd in 2006, which De Niro directed.
While the dream team of Pesci, De Niro and Scorsese is theatrical magic, Deadline reported that Pesci apparently said, "No" to appearing in The Irishman about 50 times before finally accepting the role of Russell Bufalino in the film. Maybe he was just playing hard to get.
If you're a fan of this friendship, then you'll probably appreciation of one Joe Pesci fan's Instagram account that features several flashback photos of the Home Alone actor and De Niro. It looks like these two Hollywood legends have been thick as thieves for decades, both on and off screen!
Stardom was always in the cards for Joe Pesci
John T. Barr/Getty Images
Some people are natural entertainers. Any genre, any venue, any material—they just want to please an audience with a good performance. Joe Pesci was doing radio and plays by age four and was a regular on the variety show Star Time Kids when he was just ten. When you get a taste of love from audiences at such a young age, applause is a high you chase for the rest of your life.
While his first film, The Death Collector, was a bust, it led him to a bustling career that cemented his name into film history. With an Academy Award win for Goodfellas and numerous nominations for other ensemble-cast films he starred in like The Irishman, Casino, and Raging Bull, it's no wonder Pesci's My Cousin Vinny costar and scene partner, Marisa Tomei, won an Oscar. It seems Pesci and his costars bring out the best in each other.
The actor told the Los Angeles Times, "I try to bring a little fun to all my characters, a little black humor." In fact, he has always had comedic sensibility and timing. Even back in the '60s, he performed as part of a comedy duo with асtоr Frаnk Vіnсеnt in comedy clubs throughout New Jersey. It's hard to believe one person could have so many fascinating life experiences!
Dock drama is a part of Joe Pesci's real life
Bobby Bank/Getty Images
Like many retirees, Joe Pesci has time on his hands to take part in fighting proposed development around the neighborhood. But, unlike many retirees, he is New Jersey royalty. So, when the actor joined some of his neighbors in writing letters to oppose a proposed 300-foot dock on a neighbor's property in Lavallette, New Jersey, it became a story that wound up in Page Six.
Pesci's house, which he has owned since 1990, is on Barnegat Bay. He complained in his letter that the extended length of the proposed dock would "block views of the Bay currently enjoyed by other area homeowners." He also cited safety concerns, writing "[dock] extensions would force boaters, kayakers and paddlers in this area — which include children in addition to adults — to operate in waters far from land, and accordingly in the wakes of large watercraft."
Mafia characters spend a lot of time on docks dumping bodies, but this time, it looks like Pesci is dumping the property. Realtor.com reported that he listed it for $6.5M.
Joe Pesci is a Jersey Boy in more ways than one
Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images
Joe Pesci is full of surprises. According to TIME, Pesci apparently "played a not-inconsequential role in the formation of the popular doo-wop band" Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Pesci and Tommy DeVito, a founding member of the group, are old friends. Pesci introduced DeVito to songwriter Bob Gaudio, who wrote many of the band's hits. The Jersey Boys musical, written about the formation of the band, even includes Joe Pesci (played by an actor) as a character. When the show opened on Broadway in 2005, Pesci, DeVito, Gaudio, and Frankie Valli all reunited and hugged onstage.
Here's where it gets kind of meta: Pesci's fictional character in the film Goodfellas was named Tommy DeVito, after the Four Seasons bandmember. Then, when they made a movie of the Jersey Boys Broadway show, in which there was a character named Joe Pesci, who was based on the real Joe Pesci but played by an actor because the real Pesci was too old to play his younger self. And, in between all of that, as the New York Times reported, Pesci helped DeVito get bit parts in a few movies, including Casino. These two are all over each other's art! I guess the answer to "Will you still love me tomorrow?" is a resounding, "YES!"
Joe Pesci beefed up and then said Fughettaboutit
John M. Heller/Getty Images
As far as legal matters go, Joe Pesci's battle with a production company is about as Hollywood as it gets . The actor gained 30 pounds in preparation for the role of Gotti strongarm Angelo Ruggiero in the film, Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father. But the role never materialized because, per The Hollywood Reporter, the director quit and the new director wanted to give Pesci a smaller part. So, in 2011, he sued the production company, run by producer Marc Fiore, for $3 million (the salary he was to have made for playing Ruggiero) plus punitive damages. Even amid a legal battle, Fiore told the Daily News he still likes Pesci and still wanted him in the film, just in a different role. The lawsuit settled in 2013, and CBS reports the details of the settlement remain private. The film was eventually made, sans Pesci. And when Gotti did come out in 2018, it was panned.
You know what wasn't dragged through the mud or the rotten tomatoes? The 2011 Snickers commercial that Pesci popped up in.
Joe Pesci takes hitting the links seriously
John T. Barr/Getty Images
Among the myriad of magazine "Top 100" lists on which one might expect to find Joe Pesci, Golf Digest seems like a curveball (or should we say a slice?). But what do you know, Pesci appeared as #62 on the magazine's Top 100 Golfers in Hollywood list in 2007. Yes, Pesci loves the links and has been spotted at many celebrity golf tournaments throughout his "retirement." Andy Garcia told Today's Golfer that Pesci is "a great player" and that the two of them "won the Michael Douglas and Friends event" with Jack Nicholson.
Pesci frequents a premiere Hollywood power-player club, Lakeside Country Club. He even donated a round of golf with him at Lakeside for an auction to benefit Los Angeles schools. Nicholson told Golf Digest, "I love playing with Pesh. That's a day's entertainment. You can sprain your neck just watching Pesh's practice swing." Nicholson also shared that Pesci and Randy Quaid helped him learn the game.
According to Netflix's The Movies That Made Us (via GOLF), Pesci requested that his call time for Home Alone be moved to accommodate his golf game. And it worked. The call time was moved to 9 am to give him time to play a round of golf at 7 a.m. before shooting. Pesci does what Pesci wants when Pesci wants to do it. That's one reason we love him.
No one gets to the point like Joe Pesci
Jamie Mccarthy/Getty Images
If winning an Oscar didn't do it, Joe Pesci was cemented as a pop-culture legend when he was lampooned on Saturday Night Live. The legendary sketch comedy series threw a recurring "Joe Pesci Show" skit into the rotation, with Jim Breuer playing Pesci—and killing it! The episode where "Al Pacino" (played by Kevin Spacey) was the guest was pure comedy gold! On another episode, the real Pesci and De Niro walked on stage at the end of the skit, bringing the house down.
But it isn't just comedy, acting, music, and friendship for which Pesci is known. He is also a style icon. More specifically, his characters all have one common style thread: the pointiest shirt collars known to man. GQ explains the collars were "a staple of New York gangster style in the first half of the 20th century, when suity bravado was a part of the whole threatening package. The spearpoint collar telegraphed class, in that ironically garish sense of the word, and that other great mafia passion, laundry." You better believe he the shirt he wore to the premiere of The Irishman had a pointy collar; Pesci took this fashion statement from the screen to the red carpet for his swan song.
Sadly, De Niro and Pacino told The Guardian that The Irishman was the last hurrah of this group of longtime friends and costars. See you on the golf course, gentlemen. Pesci has a tee time at seven.