Burt Young, a former boxer who was in Sylvester Stallone’s corner as his brother-in-law Paulie in the six Rocky films and received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the original, has died. He was 83.
He died Oct. 8 in Los Angeles, said his daughter, Anne Morea Steingieser The New York Times Wednesday.
Young was a tough guy in real life who usually played tough guys on screen. Young portrayed a rotten gumshoe customer in Jack Nicholson Chinatown (1974), was gangster “Bed Bug” Eddie in The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) and played Rodney Dangerfield’s protector/driver Lou Back to school (1986).
Young also appeared in four films in four consecutive years with fellow Queens man James Caan – Cinderella Freedom (1973), The gambler (1974), The killer elite (1975) and Harry and Walter go to New York (1976) — before working together again Mickey blue eyes (1999).
He played a getaway driver in Sam Peckinpah’s The killer eliteafter which he got behind the wheel again for the director as a renegade truck driver Convoy (1978).
As gruff ex-Navy man Paulie Pennino, the older brother of best friend Rocky’s wife, Adrian (Talia Shire), Young was a mainstay of the MGM franchise from its initial release in 1976. After she gave the boxer the idea brought to train in a cold meat locker and work as a corner man, Paulie was a staple of all the films. Rocky Balboa (2006).
“I was on the MGM lot when Sly Stallone came by and introduced himself to me and told me he wrote Rocky and said, ‘You have to do it,'” he recalled in a 2009 interview for the website The Sweet Science. “I wanted to do it right away, but I wanted to twist their arms a little bit, not seem too eager.
“I thought the script had the cleanest street prose I’d ever read. Stallone is not only a workaholic, he is also a genius who always looks three years ahead. He has a real eye for what is happening in the world.”
In 1978, Young wrote and starred as a trumpeter in the heartbreaking film Uncle Joe Shannoncreated by Rocky Oscar winners Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler.
He was born Gerald Tommaso DeLouise in Queens on April 30, 1940. His father was a sheet metal mechanic who became a shop teacher in high school, and his mother was a seamstress.
Young made mischief in high school and, with his father’s help, joined the U.S. Marines before he turned 16, lying about his age. He boxed in the service and won 32 of 34 fights during his two-year stay in Okinawa, he said.
When he was released, he trained with Cus D’Amato (later Mike Tyson’s trainer) and claimed to be undefeated in a handful of matches as a professional. He said his biggest payday from a fight was $400. (He later “fought” Muhammad Ali at a charity exhibition, and they would become friends.)
While working as a carpet cleaner, salesman and installer, he began studying at the Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg, who would serve as his mentor.
“What happened is I was chasing a girl and she (said she) wanted to study with Lee Strasberg. I thought he (Strasberg) was a girl,” he said told That of New York Newsday in 1985. ‘Anyway, I met him and he said to me, ‘You’re very tense. You have enormous tension about yourself. I feel like you are an emotional library.” “
His first acting gig came at the age of 28 in a play, and his first two films were stories about crime in New York City: The gang that couldn’t shoot straight (1971), from a novel by Jimmy Breslin, and Just across 110th street (1972).
Young next appeared on the big screen Amityville II: The Possession (1982), I’m looking forward to getting out (1982), Once upon a time in America (1984), Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1984), Last exit into Brooklyn (1989), Betsy’s wedding (1990), Excessive violence (1993), She is so nice (1997), The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), TransAmerica (2005) and Win win (2011).
On television, Young was bunkmates with Corey Haim on the short-lived NBC sitcom Roommatesplayed the retired gangster father of Steve Schirripa’s character The sopranos and a guest role as Lt. Palumbo in Murder can hurt you! an ABC parody of Columbus-like detective shows.
He made his Broadway debut in 1986 opposite Robert De Niro Cuba and his teddy bear.
Young returned to his ringside roots in the 1980s when he managed boxer David Sears. Sears, a light heavyweight, fought for the title but was knocked out in the third round by Michael Spinks in February 1985 in Atlantic City.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include his brother Robert and a grandson. His wife, Gloria, died in 1974.
A passion for painting was sparked when, at age 11, Young won an easel and paint in a New York City Parks Department competition. An exhibition of his work in 2006, the New York Post wrote, showed “a whimsical touch and sense of color,” and said he was once paid $66,000 for a painting.
“I thought, ‘What better way to support yourself without directing, acting or writing.’ There is no censorship,” he said in 2012. “With so many films, my work ends up on the cutting room floor – every actor has that. What are they going to do with my paintings?”