‘Mean Streets’ Actor Was 80 – The Hollywood Reporter

Richard Romanus, the tough-guy character actor best known for his turn as Michael Longo, the Little Italy loan shark who gets into it with Robert De Niro’s Johnny Civello in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, has died. He was 80.

Romanus died Dec. 23 in a private hospital in Volos, Greece, his son, Robert Romanus, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Romanus handled prominent voice roles for Ralph Bakshi in 1977’s Wizards (as the elf warrior Weehawk) and 1982’s Hey Good Lookin’ (as the leader of a 1950s greaser gang), and in between, he played the cab driver Harry Canyon in another animated film, Heavy Metal (1981).

He also appeared on four episodes of The Sopranos as Richard LaPenna, the on-again, off-again husband of Lorraine Bracco’s Jennifer Melfi, from 1999-2002.

In Mean Streets (1973), Romanus’ character is famously disrespected by Johnny when he leans on him for his money.

“You know, Michael, you make me laugh,” Civello says. “You see, I borrow money all over this neighborhood, left and right from everybody, and I never pay them back. So, I can’t borrow no money from nobody no more, right? So who would that leave me to borrow money from but you?

“I borrow money from you, because you’re the only jerk-off around here who I can borrow money from without payin’ back, right? You know, ’cause that’s what you are, that’s what I think of you, a jerk-off. You’re smiling ’cause you’re a jerk-off. You’re a fucking jerk-off! I’ll tell you something else, I fuck you right where you breathe, because I don’t give two shits about you or nobody else.”

Michael, of course, will get his revenge on the road to Brooklyn.

The son of a dentist, Richard Joseph Romanus was born on Feb. 8, 1943, in Barre, Vermont, and raised in West Hartford, Connecticut. He graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati in 1964 with a degree in philosophy and spent a year in law school before studying acting with Lee Strasberg at Carnegie Hall.

In 1970, he appeared on episodes of Mission: Impossible and The Mod Squad and in the David Janssen-starring telefilm Night Chase before he was hired on Mean Streets.

His iconic scene with De Niro came on the next-to-last day of shooting, Scorsese recalled in Andy Dougan’s 2011 book, Untouchable: Robert De Niro.

“Something had happened between Bobby and Richard because the animosity between them in that scene is real, and I played on it,” the director said. “They had gotten on each other’s nerves to the point where I think they really wanted to kill each other. I kept shooting take after take of Bobby yelling all these insults while the crew was getting very upset.”

Romanus said De Niro actually got angry when he saw him laugh during the tirade. “By laughing I was saving face. He thought I should be fuming, but he had no control over my reactions,” he said. “Sometimes the reaction you get from your acting partner is not the one you want. Then you simply have to react off that. But in this scene I laughed organically. I thought Bobby was very funny when he was doing that stuff. And he looked ridiculous.”

Romanus spent the rest of the decade showing up on such shows as Rhoda, Kojak, Starsky & Hutch, The Rockford Files and Hawaii Five-O and in the film Russian Roulette (1975).

In 1981-82, he landed a regular role as Det. Lt. Charlie Gunzer on the ultra-violent ABC crime show Strike Force, starring Robert Stack and produced by Aaron Spelling, but the series was canceled after 20 episodes.

Richard Romanus in Strike Force

From left: Michael Goodwin, Robert Stack, Dorian Harewood, Trisha Noble and Richard Romanus from the 1981-82 series Strike Force.

Robert Phillips / Everett Collection

He played another cop on another short-lived ABC series, Foul Play, in 1981.

Romanus’ résumé included the films Sitting Ducks (1980), Protocol (1984), The Couch Trip (1988), Oscar (1991), Point of No Return (1993), Cops and Robbersons (1994), Nailed (2001) and The Young Black Stallion (2003) and TV work on Hill Street Blues, The A-Team, MacGyver, Cagney & Lacey and NYPD Blue.

In addition to his son, survivors include his second wife, Oscar-nominated costume designer Anthea Sylbert (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Julia), whom he married in August 1985, and younger brother Robert Romanus, who played Mike Damone in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Twenty-three years ago, Romanus and Sylbert moved to the Greek town of Skiathos, and he wrote about the experience in Act III: A Small Island in the Aegean, published in 2011. Plus, he authored two novels set in the country, 2011’s Chrysalis and 2014’s Matoula’s Echo.

The couple, who were declared honorary citizens of Skiathos in 2021, also wrote and produced two Lifetime telefilms, 1998’s Giving Up the Ghost and 1999’s If You Believe (the latter got them a WGA nomination).

Romanus’ first wife was actress-singer Tina Bohlmann. They were married from 1967 until their 1975 divorce.

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