Burt Young, celebrated for his unforgettable role in Rocky, sadly passed away in Los Angeles on October 8th at the age of 83. His daughter, Anne Morea Steingieser, confirmed his passing, yet the specific cause of his death remains a closely guarded secret, leaving fans and the entertainment world in mourning.
Burt Young: the missed Academy Award
Burt Young narrowly missed the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Paulie Pennino in Rocky. Notably, he was a former professional boxer with the given name Gerald “Jerry” Tommaso DeLouise. He was born in Queens to Italian-American parents Giuseppina and Michele and honed his acting skills at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg‘s guidance. Although widowed since 1974, he lovingly supported his daughter’s following in his footsteps.
Additionally, he owned a Bronx restaurant and was a renowned character actor, working with top directors in both film and television. Yet, his most iconic role was as Paulie in Rocky, which earned him an Oscar nomination. Sylvester Stallone, his colleague and friend, paid heartfelt tribute on Instagram.
Burt Young’s diverse career
Throughout his extensive career, Burt Young appeared in over 160 films and TV series, taking on roles ranging from gritty laborers to mafia bosses and clever detectives. Lee Strasberg aptly described him as “a library of emotions”.
Despite his imposing presence and past as a Marine and professional boxer, he infused complexity into every character, even when portraying a villain. He collaborated with nonconformist directors like Sam Peckinpah in “Killer Elite” and “Convoy”. His daughter highlighted their shared deep respect for art and authenticity.
In Roman Polanski’s neo-noir masterpiece, “Chinatown”, he played a Los Angeles fisherman embroiled in a tale of incest and murder. Burt Young also worked with esteemed directors such as Sergio Leone in “Once Upon a Time in America”, Wim Wenders in “La terra dell’abbondanza”, Pupi Avati in “Il nascondiglio” and Abel Ferrara in “Go Go Tales”.
The Rocky journey
Burt Young’s true breakthrough came with Rocky, the story of an underdog boxer (Sylvester Stallone) who encounters heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). While the film catapulted Sylvester Stallone to global fame, Burt Young was the standout star during filming. In a 2017 interview with The Rumpus, he revealed, “I was the only actor who didn’t audition for the first Rocky, and I was the highest paid”. He also fondly recounted Sly’s initial request: “He knelt beside me and asked me to act in his Rocky”. The film became an iconic cinematic masterpiece, earning ten Oscar nominations, including Young’s for Best Supporting Actor, and securing three victories, starting with the Best Picture Oscar.