Movie fans everywhere are mourning Burt Young, the prolific veteran actor best known for playing Paulie in the Rocky franchise, who died recently at the age of 83.
Many are paying tribute to the late, beloved actor — including his co-star Sylvester Stallone. Read on to learn more and read Sly’s tribute to his old friend.
Burt Young: early career
Young was born April 30, 1940 and raised in Queens, New York. He served in the US Marine Corps from 1957 to 1959, during which time he was also a successful boxer.
He then pivoted into acting, training at the Actors Studio under legendary teacher Lee Strasberg, who praised Young as a “library of emotions,” according to the New York Times.
Young’s background made him a perfect fit for playing working class tough-guy characters, and his prolific Hollywood career took off in the 1970s. He had small but scene-stealing performances in many of the era’s classic films, including Chinatown and Once Upon a Time in America.
“The exceptionally prolific Young — who was never much to look at, making him the perfect character actor — had a way of taking a thug or a goon or a mug and giving him more personality, more sympathy, somehow, than the role deserved,” wrote Carmel Dagan for Variety.
Though Stallone played the title role, Young was the better-known actor at the time, and Stallone reportedly begged him to join the film: “He kneels down next to me,” “He says, ‘Mr. Young, I’m Sylvester Stallone. I wrote Rocky,’” Young recalled to The Rumpus in 2017. “’You’ve got to do it, please.’ He’s trying to twist my arm.”
But Young was mostly won over by Stallone’s script: “I thought the script had the cleanest street prose I’d ever read,” Young told The Sweet Science in 2009. “Stallone is not only a workaholic, he’s a genius who is always looking three years ahead. He has a real eyeball for what’s going on in the world.”
Young accepted, and the rest is history: the film was the biggest hit of the year, won the Academy Award for Best Picture and is still regarded as a classic. Young was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.
Paulie became one of the franchise’s most enduring and memorable characters, and Young reprised his role in all five sequels, ending with 2006’s Rocky Balboa (in the spin-off Creed, Rocky mentions that Paulie has died.)
Outside the Rocky franchise, Young continued to have a successful career in film, TV and the stage, with over 100 acting credits. He had a memorable one-episode guest-starring role on The Sopranos as the father of Bobby Baccalieri, a dying gangster who comes out of retirement for a hit. Young also had a successful career as a painter and author.
Stallone pays tribute
Burt Young died on October 8 at the age of 83, his daughter Anne Morea Steingieser confirmed to the New York Times yesterday.
“Burt was an actor of tremendous emotional range. He could make you cry and he could scare you to death,” Young’s manager Lynda Bensky said in a statement to People. “But the real pathos that I experienced was the poignancy of his soul. That’s where it came from.”
Many tributes have come from Hollywood since news of Young’s death broke — including from his frequent co-star Sylvester Stallone.
“To my Dear Friend, BURT YOUNG, you were an incredible man and artist,” Sly wrote in an Instagram tribute to his on-screen brother-in-law, along with a photo of the two of them on set. “I and the World will miss you very much…RIP.”