New Jersey lost many bright stars in 2022.
We remember the famous faces who were born here, made their home here, or represented the Garden State in another, memorable way. Although they are gone, their legacies live on.
January 10, 1931-April 30, 2022
Ron Galella, a legendary celebrity photographer considered to be the “Godfather of U.S. paparazzi,” died of congestive heart failure in his Montville home on April 30. He was 91 years old. Galella made waves as trailblazer capturing candid shots of celebrities, who had previously maintained highly-curated public images. Galella was dubbed a creep, a stalker and worse when he was making a name for himself in the 1960s. Marlon Brando even once punched him in the face, breaking Galella’s jaw. His hunt for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s pictures led her to sue him, and a judge barred him from photographing her anymore. Luckily for Galella, this happened after he captured his most famous photograph of her, wandering the New York City streets in 1971, where she is seen with a half-smile and her hair blown across her face from the wind. He told New Jersey Monthly that he considers it “his Mona Lisa.” The walls of the photographer’s Montville home were covered with his iconic work, when we visited about a decade ago. There was even a room dedicated to and inspired by the legendary Andy Warhol, who was rumored to be a Galella fan.
December 18, 1954-May 26, 2022
Ray Liotta, whose unforgettable role as Henry Hill in the 1990 mob classic Goodfellas made him a household name, died on May 26 at the age of 67. The star, who grew up in Union after being adopted as a baby, passed away in his sleep in the Dominican Republic, where he’d been shooting the film Dangerous Waters. Liotta, an alum of Union High School, was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2016 and said on stage of his home state, “To me, New Jersey is about family. And Taylor ham,” which garnered laughs from the crowd. “Which you can’t find anywhere but here.” He also recalled that in Union, there was a saying that “Union has loads of good kids.” “But what I have to say is, New Jersey has loads of great people,” he added. In 2021, he gave another nod to his Jersey roots with a role in the Sopranos prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark, as “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti.
1942-July 8, 2022
Tony Sirico—a Brooklyn native who played one of the most memorable New Jersey television characters of all time, mobster “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri on The Sopranos—died on July 8 at 79 years old. “Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big hearted as anyone i’ve ever known. I was at his side through so much: through good times and bad. But mostly good,” actor Michael Imperioli wrote on Instagram upon announcing Sirico’s passing (He played Christopher Moltisanti and shared many a scene with Sirico). “And we had a lot of laughs. We found a groove as Christopher and Paulie and I am proud to say I did a lot of my best and most fun work with my dear pal Tony.” Sirico died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
1940-July 21, 2022
Taurean Blacque, an actor best known for his role as Detective Neal Washington on NBC’s acclaimed drama “Hill Street Blues,” died on July 16 at the age of 82. He passed away in Atlanta following a brief illness, according to Deadline. Blacque was born in Newark and graduated from its Arts High School; however, he did not pursue acting until he was almost 30. He takes credit for making Neal Washington a quiet character, aiming to move away from the “hip, jive Black man” stereotype, he once told TV Guide (via the New York Times). His name at birth was Herbert Middleton Jr., but he took on the stage name Taurean Blacque to capture casting directors’ attention. The name is an homage to his astrological sign, Taurus, which is a Venus-ruled Earth sign represented by the Bull. As the Times reports, he had two biological sons and 11 adopted children. This led him to become an adoption advocate, serving as a spokesperson for Los Angeles County adoption services and later becoming the national spokesman for adoption under the Bush Administration in 1989.
1939-July 25, 2022
Paul Sorvino—best known for roles like “Big Paulie” Cicero in the 1990 mob classic Goodfellas and Sergeant Phil Cerreta on Law & Order, but also a gifted opera singer, sculptor and chef—died on July 25 at the age of 83. The New York-born, former Tenafly resident, whose Oscar-winning daughter, Mira Sorvino, spent much of her childhood in the Bergen County suburb, is also survived by his children Amanda Sorvino and Michael Sorvino and his beloved wife of nearly eight years, Dee Dee Sorvino. Although he left the Garden State years ago, he once told New Jersey Monthly, “I still have a lot of fondness for New Jersey. If there was a New Jersey song, I’d sing it.”
May 25, 1969-August 12, 2022
Actress Anne Heche died on August 12 following a horrific car crash in Los Angeles, which was ruled an accident. A Hollywood star, Heche spent some of her difficult youth at the Jersey Shore, including Atlantic City and Ocean City. “That’s where I first became an actress,” she told Suburban Life magazine in 2017 (via nj.com). “I literally started singing for my supper, right on the Boardwalk. I would flip burgers and sing show tunes to get people to come to our stand.” Her first job was at a local dinner theater in Swainton, which she said helped support her family. “So, you could definitely say that New Jersey changed my life,” Heche said. “I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Jersey.”
Frank Vallelonga Jr.
Green Book actor and former Bergen County pizzeria owner Frank Vallelonga Jr. died on November 28 at 60 years old. He formerly served up pies as the owner of Tony Lip’s Italian Restaurant & Pizza in Franklin Lakes, which was a nod to his father, who was nicknamed Tony Lip (and was known for playing crime boss Carmine Lupertazzi on The Sopranos). Vallelonga’s body was found dumped in the Bronx, according to the New York Times, and Bronx man Steven Smith, 35, was charged with concealing the corpse. Smith has claimed Vallelonga was “dead already,” per the Times.
1932-December 4, 2022
Bob McGrath, who for decades put smiles on the faces of children and parents alike as Bob Johnson on Sesame Street, died at his Norwood home on December 4. He was 90 years old. McGrath, an original cast member who worked on the children’s program until 2016, was born in Illinois but lived in New Jersey for the last 60 years, the bulk in Teaneck. He was as beloved off-screen as he was on TV, according to northjersey.com. “He was a person we’d see in our neighborhood,” former Teaneck Mayor Jackie Kates told the website, referencing a famed Sesame Street tune. “But he was also part of our family. The loss feels very personal.”
1930-December 7, 2022
Helen Slayton-Hughes, best known for her role as Ethel Beavers on the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation, died on December 7 at the age of 92. She was born in Glen Ridge. In addition to Parks and Rec, she made appearances on numerous other popular shows over the years, including The West Wing, The Middle, Arrested Development and Pretty Little Liars. She reportedly had four children and six grandchildren, and was related to another Jersey celeb, Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage (who grew up in Mendham), her first cousin once removed, according to nj.com.
1944-December 15, 2022
Dino Danelli, the Jersey City-born, original drummer of the rock group the Rascals (first known as the Young Rascals), died on December 15 at age 78. He had been in declining health for years, Joe Russo, the group’s historian and a close friend, told the New York Times. The band, formed in Garfield in 1965, is considered among the first American bands to form following the British Invasion the year prior. The band made their debut at the Choo Choo Club in Garfield. The group dissolved in the early 1970s, but Danelli’s music career carried on. In 1980, he collaborated with fellow Jersey boy Steven Van Zandt, guitarist of the E Street Band, on a side project called the Disciples of Soul. Van Zandt, a longtime Rascals fan, delivered the group’s 1997 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, where he called Danelli “the greatest rock drummer of all time,” according to the Times.Click here to leave a comment