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Joe Pesci Take a Look Back At His Early Career

Joe Pesci has been elevated to a movie icon, with roles in such films as Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), Goodfellas (1990), Home Alone (1990) and My Cousin Vinny (1992), but the beloved performer was acting long before that — and the career of young Joe was equally as fascinating.

Born February 9, 1943 in Newark, New Jersey, he’s been on the entertainment scene since he was a kid, appearing on the New York stage when he was 5 and starring alongside Connie Francis on the TV variety show Startime Kids when he was about in 1958.

In the 1960s, he was releasing records under the name Johnny Dee and Joe Ritchie, which is how his name appeared on the 1968 album Little Joe Sure Can Sing, on which he sang cover versions of then modern hits.

The actor and musician obviously has been a massive talent since the very beginning, but, as he’s admitted, it’s something that his father actually wanted more than he did.

“My father loved me so much that he did not want me to be a laborer or anything,” Pesci told the New York Times. “I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do — push your kids into something and then stay on them until they do it.”

In a separate interview he gave the Chicago Tribune, Pesci revealed of the plays and TV variety show, “I guess it’s like if you train a puppy, he gets these rewards. You learn to get the reward of the audience. Stage kids feel very unloved if things don’t go right in their life and they’re always trying to please people.”

Keep reading to learn more about the career of young Joe Pesci, and where it led him over the decades.

Joe Pesci young takes on film

Pesci broke into film early on, but it wasn’t until he booked 1979’s Raging Bull that his career started to take off — especially after he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor.

In that movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, the actor starred alongside Robert De Niro in what turned out to be his breakout role. He quickly began to score bigger roles, including I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can (1982), Dear Mr. Wonderful (1982), Easy Money (1983), opposite De Niro again in Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and Moonwalker (1988).

The year of Joe Pesci young

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Cast of ‘Goodfellas’ (1990)Getty

He delighted audiences playing criminal accountant Leo Getz in Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), a part he would reprise in the third and fourth entries in the series.

They say the third time’s the charm, and that was certainly the case In 1990 when Pesci was back together with De Niro and Scorsese with Goodfellas, the duo starring with Ray Liotta as members of the mafia. The movie was a massive hit and this time Pesci took home the Oscar gold as Best Supporting Actor. The film raked in nearly $47 million and is considered the high point of director Martin Scorsese’s career (which is saying a lot!).

And remember the “funny how” scene from Goodfellas? Well, it turns out something very similar happened to the real-life Pesci. Liotta recalled, “Joe was telling me a story about what happened to him in Queens or wherever it was, and he said to some guy… ‘Well… you think I’m funny?’” The story was the perfect bit to be added into the film.

two men angry
Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in Home Alone (1990)

Immediately after, Pesci starred in another of his big hits, Home Alone (1990). The actor portrayed yet another criminal, Harry, trying to rob the McAllister family while they are away on vacation. What he doesn’t know is their 8-year-old son is home to stop him and his partner, Marv (Daniel Stern).

Pesci revealed in an interview that he tended to ignore Macaulay Culkin on set — but for a very good reason. “I remember Macaulay as being a really sweet kid and, even at his age, very professional,” Pesci explained. “I intentionally limited my interactions with him to preserve the dynamic between his character, Kevin, and my character, Harry.”

Pesci’s film career soars

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Joe Pesci in ‘My Cousin Vinny’ (1992)

Following the beating his character took in Home Alone, Pesci starred in JFK (1991), My Cousin Vinny (1992), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), With Honors (1994) and (once more with De Niro and Scorsese) Casino (1995).

After Lethal Weapon 4 in 1998, he decided to step away from the camera to pursue a musical career, releasing the albums Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You (1998) and Pesci … Still Singing (2019).

Since his return to the screen in 2006, Pesci has only made a handful of films, including The Good Shepherd (2006), his most recent reunion with Scorsese and De Niro in The Irishman (2019) and Day of the Fight (2023).

Pesci’s life and career recently

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Joe Pesci and Pete Davidson in ‘Bupkis’ (2023)

The actor has also starred in the Peacock streaming series Bupkis (2023), as Joe Larocca. Pesci stars alongside Pete Davidson, who shared about how the show came to be. “We had a really great conversation. It was really honest and organic and we kind of hit it off. And it was out of love he did it, ’cause he doesn’t need to do anything… I got the guy no one can get. And that changed my life. I owe him everything.”

But despite all of the successful roles Pesci has had, he shared that it’s more about quality over quantity. “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.”

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