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Acclaimed Tough-Guy Actor and ‘Rocky’ Star Burt Young Dies at 83

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Burt Young, the former professional boxer-turned-actor who earned an Oscar nomination starring alongside Sylvester Stallone in the breakout 1976 hit Rocky, died earlier this month in Los Angeles, his daughter told The New York Times.

No cause of death was provided for the 83-year-old. Young’s manager, Lynda Bensky, paid tribute in a statement to USA Today, describing him as “an actor of tremendous emotional range. He could make you cry and he could scare you to death. But the real pathos that I experienced was the poignancy of his soul. That’s where it came from.”

The New York City native—whose real name was Gerald Tommaso DeLouise—built a long Hollywood career portraying tough but emotionally complex men in films like Chinatown, The Gambler, and Once Upon a Time in America, among many others. In particular, he starred in a number of films with James Caan, who was also from Queens.

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Young was born in 1940 to a shop teacher and a dressmaker, and by all accounts had a rough childhood in the working-class neighborhood of Corona. He spoke of getting booted out of at least two high schools before joining the Marines at age 16—claiming his father lied about his age in a bid to get him into the military. It was there he began boxing, going 32-2 during a two-year stint in Okinawa, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

He later returned to the United States and worked with the legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, who famously also trained Mike Tyson. Young had a professional record of 17-1, according to the Times, though his own accounts of those years varied across numerous interviews.

After a series of odd jobs, he fell into acting at age 28—thanks to a girl, of course.

“What happened is that I was chasing a girl and she wanted to study with [the legendary acting coach] Lee Strasberg,” he told Newsday in a 1985 interview. “I thought he was a girl. Anyway, I met him and he told me, ‘You’re very tense. You have huge tension about you. I feel you’re an emotional library.’”

He had a series of small roles in a number of iconic titles throughout the early 1970s—appearing in M*A*S*H and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, among others. But Young really broke out portraying the irascible friend-turned-brother-in-law of heavyweight boxer Rocky Balboa in Rocky.

Burt Young and daughter Anne Morea during a charity 1987 charity event at Julie Andrews’ California home.

Burt Young and daughter Anne Morea during a 1987 charity event at Julie Andrews’ California home.

Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

He recalled his chance meeting with Sylvester Stallone, then a struggling actor who had written the film’s screenplay, in a 2009 interview with boxing website The Sweet Science.

“I was on the MGM lot when Sly Stallone came over and introduced himself to me, told me he wrote Rocky and said, ‘You gotta do it.’ I wanted to do it right away, but I wanted to twist their arms a little bit, not look too eager.”

“I thought the script had the cleanest street prose I’d ever read. 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.”

Rocky went on to garner critical acclaim, as well as 10 Academy Award nominations—including Young’s nod for Best Supporting Actor. In all, the film won three Oscars, including Best Picture.

Young went on to have more than 160 film and television credits in a prolific Hollywood career.

In particular, he enjoyed his time working with director Sam Peckinpah, another tough guy with whom he made 1975’s The Killer Elite and 1978’s Convoy.

“Both were mavericks and outlaws, with a deep respect for art,” his daughter, Anne Morea Steingieser, said in a phone interview with The New York Times. “They understood each other because of the intensity and honesty Peckinpah demanded. He had no tolerance for lack of authenticity.”

Young is survived by his daughter, a brother, and a grandson. His wife, Gloria, died in 1974.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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