Richard Foronjy began his long career as a character actor...

Richard Foronjy began his long career as a character actor playing a mobster in Sidney Lumet’s “Serpico” (1973). Credit: Joseph Coburn

A convict turned character actor, with more than a hundred screen credits, 86-year-old Richard Foronjy lived life on his own terms.

“He wasn't, like, warm-and-fuzzy grandpa,” said granddaughter Kathy Foronjy, of Forest Hills, Queens. “He was grandpa who curses and tells you to work hard and don't take anybody's [expletive]. He was very inspirational, always talking about how no matter how old you are, you go for it. You don't let anybody stop you. He lived his life that way.”

And he paid the price, coming of age amid local mobsters in 1950s Flatbush, Brooklyn. He spoke in a 1987 interview of being “arrested for forgery, bank robbery, credit card rip-offs. … Altogether I was arrested and put in jail 27 times. I was guilty of almost everything except drugs and homicide. But I was only convicted once, for armed robbery, and I put in 8½ years in [the upstate prisons] Sing Sing and Attica.”

He died of heart failure on May 19 at a hospital near his home in Fishkill, where he moved in 2021 after first returning to New York in 2018.

Richard Foronjy began his long career as a character actor with Sidney Lumet’s “Serpico” (1973), playing a mobster whom Al Pacino’s title character roughs up after fellow cops treat the made man with friendly respect. His most high-profile roles include manic security guard Arnold Plettschner in Alex Cox’s “Repo Man” (1984) and mobster Tony Darvo in Martin Brest’s “Midnight Run” (1988).

Richard Edward Foronjy was born Aug. 3, 1937, in Brooklyn, the eldest of four brothers. His father Shucri “Charles” Foronjy came from what is now Turkey, and as a child immigrated to the United States with his family after they escaped the Armenian genocide. Mother Grazia Mary Salerno was born in Manhattan, and he took her maiden name as his pseudonym for his 2020 memoir, “From the Mob to the Movies.”

That book “is, I'd say, 60% nonfiction and 40% fiction,” said his younger brother William, of Nesconset. The book included a supposed robbery of a Massapequa bank for which there is no record.

The family spent summers in a bungalow at Canaan Lake in North Patchogue. In 1954, after briefly attending James Madison High School and the Central High School of Needle Trades (now the High School of Fashion Industries), Foronjy married Lucille Acito, the first of his three wives and the mother of his four children. They later divorced. 

Leaving prison at age 32, he returned to his pre-incarceration career as a butcher and took acting classes for two years. He delighted in the story of how he broke in professionally.

“He got a phone call at the meat market” informing him of an audition for “Serpico,” said his brother, “and he left work and went there. He had a raincoat on, and he walked in with his coat open and his bloody apron from cutting meat.”

Lumet entered the room, said Kathy Foronjy, picking up the story, “and my grandfather has absolutely no idea who he is. He's, like, ‘Hey, buddy, can you do me a favor? Can you tell them I gotta get back to work?’”

Lumet, loving the authenticity, eventually cast Foronjy, who then asked for a favor — $300 in order to join the Screen Actors Guild. The filmmaker reportedly gave him the money, and became a mentor who would cast him in “Prince of the City” (1981) and “The Morning After” (1986).

In addition to other movies including “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984), “Ghostbusters II” (1989) and “Carlito’s Way” (1993), Foronjy appeared in dozens of TV shows. Among these was an episode of “Taxi” as Louie De Palma’s (Danny DeVito) ne’er-do-well brother Nick — where Foronjy was cast just two days before the episode shot, after “Tony Clifton” (series co-star Andy Kaufman’s alter ego) was fired from the role.

Foronjy’s second and third marriages, to Geraldine Weiner De Luca and Loraine Wantz, each ended in divorce.

In addition to brother William and granddaughter Kathy, Foronjy is survived by brothers Charles, of Freehold, New Jersey, and Frank, of Hauppauge; sons Charles, of Saugerties, New York, and Richard, of Florida,  daughters Susan Argentina and Christine Argentina, of Suffolk County;  partner Wendy Odell Chiaro; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A private inurnment will take place in the near future.

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