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Burt Young, the Actor Behind Paulie in the ‘Rocky’ Franchise, Passed Away at Age 83

Burt Young
Burt Young and Silvester Stallone (Credits: NY Post)

Burt Young, who was lauded for his legendary performance of Paulie in six “Rocky” movies with Sylvester Stallone, has died at the age of 83. His daughter, Anne Morea Steingieser, confirmed the sad news to The New York Times.

Young received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards for his work in the original 1976 “Rocky” movie. Notably, Roger Ebert, a film critic, praised Young’s performance of Paulie Pennino, calling the character a complicated amalgam of failure, contempt, loyalty, and bitterness who was prepared to harm others in order to draw attention to his own suffering. Young’s performance in the part was praised, even in The New York Times’ damning assessment.

Paulie Pennino, a character known for his temperamental, jealous, yet ultimately loyal and caring nature, stood as Rocky’s closest friend. He consistently defended the Italian Stallion from any insults or threats. However, Paulie’s actions were not without controversy, as he once berated Adrian during her pregnancy, leading to the premature birth of Rocky’s son. Paulie also involved Balboa in a street fight and, in “Rocky V” (1990), played a significant role in the Balboas’ bankruptcy.

Burt Young

Burt Young (Credits: IMDB)

In “Rocky Balboa” (2006), Paulie finds himself back where he began, working at the meat-packing plant. He loses his skepticism regarding Rocky’s return to the ring and takes on the role of Rocky’s cornerman. Notably, Young did not appear in the 2015 film “Creed,” as the character Paulie was reported to have passed away in 2012.

Burt Young, a very successful actor, had the capacity to give characters that were frequently thought of as thugs, goons, or mugs more depth and sympathy than the roles would normally warrant.

Even though “The Choirboys,” a 1977 police dramedy, received a bad review, Young’s portrayal was singled out for praise. Young portrayed the chauffeur and bodyguard of the Rodney Dangerfield character in the 1986 comedy “Back to School” as well as one of the truckers in the 1978 movie “Convoy.”

Young continued to excel in largely underrated movies like Robert Aldrich’s “All the Marbles” (1981), in which he portrayed an unsavory wrestling promoter. Along with a young Joe Pesci, he portrayed a hood in Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984), which had a famous moment. In “The Pope of Greenwich Village” (1984), he also played the vengeful mobster Bed Bug Eddie.

Burt Young

Burt Young (Credits: AP)

Young played Big Joe, a man impacted by a strike that cost him his job, in Uli Edel’s 1990 movie “Last Exit to Brooklyn.” The character had a sense of kindness and care for his family while being violent and not particularly intelligent. Burt Young played numerous roles that were challenging.

As the big boss in “Mickey Blue Eyes” (1999), where Hugh Grant falls in love with a woman from a mob-connected family, the actor also had his share of funny moments. Young had starred in as many movies by this time in his career with James Caan as he had with Sylvester Stallone.

Young showed his ability in a variety of genres by playing the crude father of Felicity Huffman’s pre-op transsexual character in “Transamerica” (2006).

Young also dabbled in television, playing a series regular in the 1987 comedy “Roomies” on NBC, which had a 50-year-old ex-Marine sergeant who shared a dorm with a young prodigy. The program was only on air for eight episodes despite its potential. Notably, Young had an appearance in a 2001 episode of “The Sopranos” as the father of Steve Schirripa’s character. Young also made guest roles on iconic shows like “Tales From the Crypt,” “Columbo,” “The Outer Limits,” “Russian Doll,” and even “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

Young’s outstanding portrayal as a paroled sex offender under intense pressure from the police and the executive D.A. in a 1997 episode of “Law & Order” titled “Mad Dog” served as one of the high points of his television career. Young’s outstanding acting abilities were on full display in this episode.

Burt Young

Burt Young (Credits: FOX News)

Italian-born parents gave birth to Burt Young in Queens, New York. At the age of 15, he enlisted in the Marines, serving from 1957 to 1959. His excellent acting career was paved with the Actors Studio training he obtained from Lee Strasberg.

Young’s career in show business began with an uncredited bartending role in a 1969 episode of “The Doctors.” He made his big-screen debut in the 1970 horror movie “Carnival of Blood.” Later, he appeared in movies like “Born to Win” (1971), “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” (1971), and “Across 110th Street” (1972).

In an early and notable role, he portrayed Curly, a pivotal character in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” (1974). This was just the beginning of Burt Young’s journey in showcasing his diverse acting abilities. He continued to impress in films like “The Gambler” (1974), “The Killer Elite” (1975), directed by Sam Peckinpah, and “Harry and Walter Go to New York” (1976).

Nonetheless, it was his portrayal of Paulie in “Rocky” (1976) that redirected the trajectory of his career. Young’s path to fame and success received a transformative boost through Sylvester Stallone’s writing for this iconic film.

Burt Young, primarily recognized for his role as Uncle Joe Shannon in the 1978 film “Uncle Joe Shannon,” also ventured into the realm of screenwriting. He made contributions to the scripts for the 1978 CBS TV movies “Daddy, I Don’t Like It Like This” and “Uncle Joe Shannon,” in which he not only took on the role of the eponymous character but also lent his writing talents to the projects.

On Instagram, Sylvester Stallone paid tribute to his “Rocky” co-star, expressing his sorrow and praising the exceptional qualities of Young as a man and an artist. In the worlds of film and entertainment, Young’s demise signifies the end of an era, leaving behind a legacy of great performances and characters that will continue to captivate audiences for centuries to come.

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