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Rocky’s ‘brother-in-law’ Burt Young dies: how he’ll be remembered

He played an iconic character in the franchise that made Sylvester Stallone a household name, but there was so much more.

He played an iconic character in the franchise that made Sylvester Stallone a household name, but there was so much more.
Tim ShafferREUTERS

The news of Burt Young’s passing on 8 October in Los Angeles sent waves of sorrow among his admirers. Renowned for his enduring role as Sylvester Stallone’s brother-in-law in the Rocky movie series, the actor left behind an indelible mark. According to Young’s daughter, Anne Morea Steingieser, the world lost a true talent. His manager, Lynda Bensky, confirmed this sad news via Reuters. He was 83.

What role did Burt Young play in Rocky?

Burt Young, initially known as Gerald Tommaso DeLouise, hailed from New York City’s Queens borough. He commenced his journey by serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during the 1950s. Subsequently, he honed his craft at Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, which paved the way for a remarkable career in portraying gritty, Italian-American characters on both the small and big screens.

Burt Young’s most celebrated role was in the original 1976 Rocky film, where he portrayed Paulie Pennino, the alcoholic butcher, and confidant of Rocky Balboa, Stallone’s iconic boxer character. Young’s character became famous for his part in Rocky’s intense training, which included punching slabs of meat in a storage locker. His convincing performance as Paulie garnered him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

“Don’t forget to give Rocky my best,” said the bartender in one simple scene. “I’ve been coming here years. Why don’t you give me, Paulie, your best once?” came the sharp reply, as the brother-in-law gets up and leaves.

Paulie, Adrian’s brother

Paulie was not only Rocky’s friend but also the brother of Adrian, Rocky’s love interest and future wife, who ultimately became Mrs. Balboa in Rocky II. This portrayal was instrumental in Young’s Oscar recognition and firmly established him in the Rocky franchise. The original Rocky created waves in the movie industry, accumulating a staggering 10 Oscar nominations and clinching three awards, including the coveted Best Picture honor.

Burt Young continued to breathe life into the character of Paulie in all six of the original Rocky sequels, ensuring that his legacy remained inseparable from the franchise.

What other movies did Burt Young appear in?

While Burt Young’s portrayal of Paulie Pennino in the Rocky series remains his most iconic role, his cinematic contributions extended far beyond Sylvester Stallone’s boxing sagas.

Young’s filmography boasts a versatile range of performances, from Chinatown to The Pope of Greenwich Village and Once Upon a Time in America. He was more than just a supporting actor in various classic movies; he was an essential ingredient in making those films memorable.

Television audiences also had the privilege of witnessing Burt Young’s acting prowess. He made guest appearances on popular series like M*A*S*H, The Rockford Files, Baretta, and Law & Order. Each time he graced the screen, he left an indelible impression with his compelling portrayals.

In his later years, Young found a new passion as a painter. His artistic endeavours led to his works being showcased in galleries across the globe, adding yet another dimension to his multifaceted artistic career. Burt Young’s legacy as an actor, painter, and an integral part of cinematic history will continue to be cherished by fans and the entertainment world alike.

Rest in peace, Paulie.