Richard Foronjy, Convicted Criminal Turned Character Actor, Dies at 86

Richard Foronjy, who spent more than eight years in prison before he turned to acting and appeared in such films as Serpico, Midnight Run, Repo Man and Carlito’s Way, died Sunday, his family announced. He was 86.

Foronjy said he was arrested more than 20 times for “forgery, bank robbery, credit card rip-offs, assorted crimes and skullduggery … [guilty of] almost everything except drugs and homicide,” he said in a 1987 interview with UPI’s Vernon Scott.

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The Brooklyn native was convicted only once, but that got him an 8½-year stretch in the New York prisons Sing Sing and Attica before he was released when he was 32.

In Hollywood, not surprisingly, Foronjy specialized in portraying cops and crooks.

He was a cop killer in his screen debut, Serpico (1973), and cops in The Morning After (1986) and Prince of the City (1981), all for Sidney Lumet. “I was especially good at playing cops, no doubt because I got to know them so well when they were busting me every other week,” he said.

He portrayed the mobsters Tony Darvo and Peter Amadesso in Martin Brest’s Midnight Run (1988) and Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way (1993), respectively, and had it both ways as a corrupt cop in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984).

Richard Edward Foronjy was born on Aug. 3, 1937. “I grew up as an angry kid in Brooklyn. I didn’t care about anything,” he said. He never went to high school, got married and had four children.

“It was in the days before computers, and I thought I could make an easy living forging checks and collecting credit cards. Then, I began robbing candy stores,” he said.

“It seemed to me it would be more profitable to go to the source of big-money banks. So I began robbing them. My first bank job brought me $170,000 — a lot more than Willie Sutton ever got. I spent the money lavishly and went to Europe.

“Eventually, it all caught up with me,” he said. “I robbed an attorney at gunpoint, and the cops caught me as I was driving away.”

Foronjy said he read more than 500 books and learned how to type when he was in prison. While watching an episode of CBS’ Kojak, he said he told himself that if Telly Savalas could be an actor, so could he. “I wasn’t thinking about acting when I conned people,” Foronjy said. “But that’s what I was doing.”

He worked as a butcher, took acting classes in his spare time, found an agent and landed the part of Corsaro in Serpico. “I cried when Lumet gave me the job,” he said. He moved to Hollywood in 1975.

Foronjy also appeared on the Serpico NBC series that starred David Birney in the Al Pacino role and played a con man in Carl Reiner’s The Jerk (1979), a character named Murray the Torch on a 1982 episode of NBC’s Hill Street Blues and the rent-a-cop Arnold Plettschner in Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984).

His résumé also included such films as The Gambler (1974), Fun With Dick and Jane (1977), The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979), True Confessions (1981), Ghostbusters II (1989) and Man of the House (1995). His TV show appearances included Police Story, M*A*S*H, The Streets of San Francisco, Taxi, Cagney & Lacy and Hunter.

His memoir, From the Mob to the Movies, was published in 2020.

Survivors include his significant other, Wendy; his children, Charles, Susan, Christine and Richard; his brothers, Charles, Frank and William; and 17 grandchildren.

“His journey as a father was marked by challenges and complexities,” his family noted.

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