Burt Young, who played Paulie in ‘Rocky’ films, dies at 83

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Burt Young

Burt Young
| Photo Credit: AP

Burt Young, the Oscar-nominated actor who played Paulie, the rough-hewn, mumbling-and-grumbling best friend, corner-man and brother-in-law to Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky franchise, has died. Young died on October 8 in Los Angeles, his daughter, Anne Morea Steingieser, told the New York Times on Wednesday. No cause was given. He was 83.

Young had roles in acclaimed films and television shows including Chinatown, Once Upon a Time in America and The Sopranos. But he was always best known for playing Paulie Pennino in six Rocky movies. The short, paunchy, balding Young was the sort of actor who always seemed to play middle-aged no matter his age.

When Paulie first appears in 1976’s Rocky, he’s an angry, foul-mouthed meat packer who is abusive to his sister Adrian (Talia Shire), with whom he shares a small apartment in Philadelphia. He berates the shy, meek Adrian for refusing at first to go on a Thanksgiving-night date with his buddy and co-worker Rocky Balboa, and destroys a turkey she has in the oven.

The film became a phenomenon, topping the box office for the year and making a star of lead actor and writer Stallone, who paid tribute to Young on Instagram on Wednesday night. Rocky was nominated for 10 Oscars, including best supporting actor for Young. It won three, including best picture. Young and co-star Burgess Meredith, who was also nominated, lost to Jason Robards in All the President’s Men.

As the movies went on, Young’s Paulie softened, as the sequels themselves did, and he became their comic relief. In 1985’s Rocky IV he reprograms a robot Rocky gives him into a sexy-voiced servant who dotes on him. Paulie was also an eternal pessimist who was constantly convinced that Rocky was going to get clobbered by his increasingly daunting opponents. His surprise at Rocky’s resilience brought big laughs.

“It was a great ride, and it brought me to the audience in a great way,” Young said in a 2020 interview with Celebrity Parents magazine. “I made him a rough guy with a sensitivity. He’s really a marshmallow even though he yells a lot.”

His wife of 13 years, Gloria, died in 1974. Along with his daughter, Young is survived by one grandchild and a brother, Robert.

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