LOS ANGELES — Oscar-nominated actor Burt Young, who played Paulie, Sylvester Stallone’s gruff, mumbling and grumbling best friend, corner man and brother-in-law in the “Rocky” franchise, has died.
Young died Oct. 8 in Los Angeles, Young’s daughter, Anne Morea Steingieser, told the New York Times on Wednesday. No reason was given. He was 83 years old.
Young has appeared in acclaimed films and television shows such as “Chinatown,” “Once Upon a Time in America” and “The Sopranos.”
But he was always best known for his role as Paulie Pennino in six “Rocky” movies. Short, potbellied, balding, Young was the kind of actor who always played middle-aged roles, regardless of his age.
When Paulie first appeared in 1976’s “Rocky,” he was an angry, foul-mouthed meatpacker who was abusive to his sister Adrian (Talia Shire), with whom he shared a small apartment in Philadelphia. She scolds the shy and meek Adrian for initially refusing to go on a Thanksgiving night date with his friend and co-worker Rocky Balboa, and destroys the turkey in the oven.
The film became a phenomenon, topping the box office this year and making a star of its lead actor and writer Stallone, who posted a tribute to Young on Instagram Wednesday night.
“You were an incredible man and artist, me and the World will miss you so much,” Stallone wrote alongside a photo of the two on the set of the first movie.
“Rocky” earned 10 Oscar nominations, including best supporting actor for Young. It won three awards, including best picture. Burgess Meredith, the young lead actor who was also nominated, lost to Jason Robards in “All the President’s Men.”
As the films progressed, Young’s Paulie softened and became their comic relief, as in the sequels. In 1985’s “Rocky IV,” he reprograms the robot Rocky gave him into a sexy-voiced maid who cares about him.
Paulie was also an eternal pessimist, constantly believing that Rocky would be defeated by his increasingly fearsome opponents. His astonishment at Rocky’s stamina caused great laughter.
“It’s been an amazing journey and it’s introduced me to audiences in a great way,” Young said in a 2020 interview with Celebrity Parents magazine. “I made him a sensitive and rough man. Even though he screams a lot, he really is a marshmallow.”
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Young served in the Marine Corps, fought as a professional boxer, and worked as a carpet fitter before turning to acting and studying with legendary teacher Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.
On stage, in films and on television, he often played small-time tough guys or hapless working-class men.
In a brief but memorable scene in 1974’s “Chinatown,” he plays a fisherman who throws a fit when Jack Nicholson’s private investigator Jake Gittes shows him pictures proving his wife is cheating on him.
Young also starred opposite Robert De Niro in director Sergio Leone’s 1984 gangster epic “Once Upon a Time in America,” the 1986 comedy “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield, and the gritty 1989 drama with Jennifer Jason Leigh. He appeared in “Last Exit to Brooklyn.” .
He made a striking appearance in the third season of “The Sopranos” in 2001, playing Bobby Baccalieri Sr., an elderly mobster with lung cancer who delivers one last hit before a coughing fit causes his death in a car crash.
He appeared as a guest actor in many TV series, including “M(star)A(star)S(star)H”, “Miami Vice” and “The Equalizer”.
Later in life, he focused on theater roles and painting; it was a lifelong pursuit that culminated in gallery shows and sales.
His wife of 13 years, Gloria, died in 1974.
Along with her daughter, Young is survived by a grandson and a brother named Robert.