Burt Young, who played the role of Paulie in six of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” films,
and received an Oscar nomination for his supporting actor performance in the original 1976 film, has passed away at the age of 83, as confirmed by his daughter, Ayni Moria Stingson, to The New York Times.
In the first “Rocky” film, Roger Ebert supported Young for his portrayal, saying, “And Burt Young (as Adrian’s brother) is effective as a loser and a hothead, faithful and bitter, someone who cares enough about people to hurt them, if only to direct attention to his own pain.”
The New York Times, in a scathing review that utterly dismissed the film, still said, “Burt Young is effective as Rocky’s best friend, an influential figure as a beer-drinking mug.”
Young’s character, Paulie, was moody, jealous, but loyal, taking on the role of Rocky’s best friend, ready to defend the Italian Stallion if anyone insulted him. However, he was a troubled friend who would yell at Adrian during her pregnancy, leading to Rocky’s son being born prematurely.
He later caused trouble for Balboa in the street fight, a reason for Rocky’s downfall in the 1990s in “Rocky V.”
In “Rocky Balboa” in 2006, Paulie returns to where he started, working in the meatpacking plant. He’s fired from his job and finds new purpose in Rocky’s corner. Young didn’t appear in 2015’s “Creed” as it was said that Paulie had passed away in 2012.
Extraordinarily substantial, Young, who didn’t always look good, became an unlikely character actor who brought depth, empathy, and more personality to his roles than the mere character requirements.
In Robert Aldrich’s 1977 police drama “The Choirboys,” a disastrous adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh’s novel, critic Richard Winters wrote in a negative review in 2011, “There are bright spots. I liked Burt Young’s character a lot.
Many remember him more for the ‘Rocky’ films. Here, he does a remarkably effective turn as a surly, thick-headed police sergeant who reveals a vulnerable side in a wholly unexpected moment.”
Young played a truck driver in Sergio Leone’s memorable scene from “Once Upon a Time in America” in 1984, where a young Joe Pesci is also featured. He played Eddie Cook in 1984’s “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” with Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke stealing $150,000 from a safe unwittingly.
In another character-driven role, in Ulu Grosbard’s 1990 film “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” he played Big Joe, who was one of many laid-off workers at the center of a strike. He is violent, not very smart, yet a concerned family man – a classic Burt Young character. When Big Joe’s wife tells him that their daughter, portrayed by Ricki Lake, is eight months pregnant, he responds with, “She’s a little chubby.”
In the 1999 romantic comedy “Notting Hill,” where Hugh Grant falls in love with a girl from a bustling family (played by Julia Roberts), James Caan played the role of her father, and Burt Young played the role of the big boss. Up until this point, Young had made as many films with Caan as he had with Stallone.
In the 2006 movie ‘Transamerica,’ featuring Felicity Huffman in the lead role of a pre-operative transsexual on a cross-country journey, Burt Young and Fionnula Flanagan portrayed her endearing, yet eccentric, parents whom she encounters along the way in Phoenix.
In the 2011 film “Win Win” with Tom McCarthy, Paul Giamatti played the role of a frustrated lawyer who discriminates against his client (Young), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and refusing to leave his home. He becomes his legal guardian and places him in a nursing home.
Young played a supporting role in the 2014 crime drama “Rob the Mob” starring Michael Pitt and Ray Romano.
Young also made an attempt at regular television in a series called “Roomies” (1987), where he played a 50-year-old former Marine sergeant living with a young prodigy, played by Corey Haim when they both go to college. Nevertheless, the series concluded after just eight episodes.
Young appeared in TV movies and shows like “Tales from the Crypt,” “Columbo,” “The Outer Limits,” “Russian Doll,” and even made a guest appearance in “Walker, Texas Ranger.” More notably, he played the role of Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri’s father in an episode of “The Sopranos” in 2001.
Tony mentioned Bobby “Bacala” by saying it was strange he never hit anyone because his father, who worked as a barber, was the “worst terminator in this thing.”