In Depth

Frank Vincent: Five things you might not know

The Sopranos and Goodfellas star was also a talented musician who once formed a comedy act with Joe Pesci

Frank Vincent, one of Hollywood’s most familiar on-screen mobsters, has died due to complications from heart surgery. Ever reluctant to reveal his year of birth, Vincent’s age is variously given as 78 or 80.

With his New Jersey accent and Italian looks, the character actor brought authenticity to roles in The Sopranos, Goodfellas and Raging Bull.

Vincent will be remembered for his explosive screen partnership with real-life friend Joe Pesci. The pair squared off in three Martin Scorsese films: Raging Bull, Casino and Goodfellas, in which Vincent’s Billy Batts makes the fatal mistake of telling Pesci’s Tommy DeVito to “go home and get your shine box”, one of the film’s most quoted scenes.

Here are five things you may not know about Vincent:

He was a gifted musician

“Outside of acting, Vincent was an accomplished drummer,” says Vulture, and as a youngster featured as a session musician for 1960s hitmakers including Paul Anka and Del Shannon. He also played the trumpet and piano.

Growing up in the working class Greenville neighbourhood of Jersey City, a teenaged Vincent developed his musical talent as a member of Father Finnegan's Drum and Bugle Corps, “a Newark outfit that taught music to troubled youths,” the New York Times reports.

He was in a comedy double act with Joe Pesci

Vincent first met Pesci in 1969 when they played in a band together, and the two soon decided to branch out into comedy, forming a duo loosely based on Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. "I would abuse the audience, and Joe would abuse me,” Vincent told the New York Times in 1996.

Their nightclub act lasted until 1975. The next year, Vincent and Pesci both landed parts in a low-budget gangster movie - and the rest was history.

He appeared in two rap videos

Vincent might not seem the most likely choice to feature in a rap music video, but he appeared in two. In 1996, he reprised his Casino role as Frankie Marino for Nas’ Street Dreams video, which was heavily inspired by the Scorsese film. He also popped up in the video for hip hop group De La Soul’s 2000 track All Good?. He went on to be Nas' acting coach for the 1998 Hype Williams film Belly.

He didn’t just play mobsters

Although Vincent will be best remembered for his wise guy roles in movies like Goodfellas and Gotti, over his four-decade career he played a variety of characters beyond the mafia stereotype.

In the late 1980s, Vincent struck up an unlikely friendship with director Spike Lee and ended up with parts in two of Lee’s movies, playing an Italian paterfamilias in Jungle Fever and an irate motorist in race drama Do The Right Thing

He owned a model of his own head

Sopranos fans will remember that Vincent’s character on the show, mob boss Phil Leotardo, meets a particularly sticky end - his head is crushed by an unattended car as he lies injured by an assassin’s bullet.

Vincent told Broadway World that shooting the gruesome scene required “about ten” dummy replicas of his head - and that he couldn’t resist taking a memento.

“I have one of the heads and my daughter has one of the heads,” he said. “She puts it in her window for Halloween!”

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