Ray Sharkey

Ray Sharkey
Born Raymond Sharkey, Jr.
(1952-11-14)November 14, 1952
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died June 11, 1993(1993-06-11) (aged 40)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Complications from AIDS
Resting place Saint Charles Cemetery
Nationality American
Alma mater New York City Community College
HB Studio
Occupation Actor
Years active 19741993
Spouse(s) Rebecca Wood (m. 1981–86)
Carole Graham (m. 1988–92)
Children Cecelia Bonnie Sharkey

Raymond "Ray" Sharkey, Jr. (November 14, 1952 June 11, 1993) was an American stage, film and television actor. His most notable film role was that of Vincent Vacarri in the 1980 film The Idolmaker for which he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. He is also known for his role as Sonny Steelgrave in the television series Wiseguy.

Early life

Sharkey was born in Brooklyn to Cecelia and Ray Sharkey, Sr. He was of Irish and Italian descent. Sharkey's father was a professional drummer who abandoned the family when Sharkey was five years old.[1] He was raised by his mother, Cecelia in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood.[1][2] Sharkey became interested in acting after seeing Jack Lemmon in the 1962 film Days of Wine and Roses. After attending New York City Community College for one year, he enrolled at the HB Studio to study acting. While attending the HB Studio, Sharkey performed in various Off-Broadway stage productions. In 1973, he and his friend boxer/actor Chu Chu Malave moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting careers.[3][4]


In 1974, he made his film debut in The Lords of Flatbush. Sharkey went on to appear in more than forty motion pictures and dozens of guest appearances on various television series.

In 1980, Sharkey portrayed rock promoter "Vincent "Vinnie" Vacarri" in The Idolmaker. The role boosted Sharkey's career and earned him a Golden Globe Award for his performance in the film.[3] The following year, he was nominated for another Golden Globe for his role in The Ordeal of Bill Carney, in which he played the title role. Shortly after appearing in The Idolmaker, Sharkey developed a $400 a day heroin habit. As a result of his drug use, his career declined and he was relegated to mainly supporting roles. He overdosed several times and was involved in four drug-related car accidents, two of which required him to undergo microsurgery on his eyes. He tried undergoing rehab treatment several times but would ultimately relapse a few months later. In 1987, Sharkey spent two months in an Orange County rehab center in an effort to kick his drug and alcohol addiction for good.[1][4]

Four days after leaving rehab, he won the role of Sonny Steelgrave in the series Wiseguy. The character proved to be popular with audiences and boosted Sharkey's career. The character was written out of the series in 1989. Sharkey then co-starred in the biographical film Wired. Based on the life of John Belushi, Sharkey portrayed a Puerto Rican angel who meets Belushi after his death in the morgue and "show[s] him the error of his ways." Sharkey's next role was in the 1989 black comedy film Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.[5]

In 1991, he starred in the ABC sitcom The Man in the Family. While Sharkey received good reviews for his performance, the show was panned by critics and canceled after one season. The following year, he appeared in a guest spot on Jake and the Fatman, and starred in the television movie In the Line of Duty: Street War. On July 30, 1992, while filming a guest spot on the television series, The Hat Squad, in Vancouver, he was arrested for drug possession. Canadian customs officials, making a routine inspection of incoming cargo at the airport, discovered small amounts of cocaine and heroin in a black envelope being sent from Los Angeles to Sharkey in Vancouver. Police searched his hotel room and found an additional supply of drugs. He was jailed and later released on bail. Sharkey was later fired from The Hat Squad.[6] Sharkey's final role was in the 1993 comedy film Cop and a Half.

Personal life

Marriages and children

In May 1981, Sharkey married model Rebecca Wood.[7] The marriage ended in 1986 due to Sharkey's drug abuse.[4] In 1988, he married actress Carole Graham. That marriage produced one daughter, Cecelia, in 1989.[1] In November 1992, Graham divorced Sharkey also citing his drug abuse as the reason for the divorce.[8]

On September 22, 2015, Sharkey's daughter, Cecelia, was charged with capital murder for the death of her boyfriend's mother.[9]

Illness and death

Sharkey was diagnosed as HIV positive in the late 1980s. He reportedly contracted the virus through intravenous drug use. After his death, Sharkey's manager Herb Nanas admitted that they both decided to keep his diagnosis a secret fearing it would hurt his career. Despite his diagnosis, Sharkey remained in denial about his HIV positive status and, according to his manager, had sex with an estimated one hundred women after he was diagnosed.[10][11]

In April 1991, Sharkey began a relationship with model/actress, Elena Monica, daughter of comedian Corbett Monica. In July 1991, she became ill and was hospitalized with aseptic meningitis. During a routine check, she tested positive for HIV. Monica believed she contracted the virus from Sharkey who continued to deny that he had infected her. Monica ended the relationship in October 1991 due to her suspicions. In July 1992, she learned that another woman also suspected that Sharkey had infected her with HIV as well. Later that same year, Monica filed a $52 million lawsuit against the actor for knowingly infecting her with HIV.[11]

In an interview with Details magazine conducted in March 1993, three months before his death, Sharkey told the reporter that he was in fact HIV-positive by saying that he "harbored a strain of HIV" that he believed would never develop into AIDS. At the time of the interview, Sharkey weighed 80 pounds (36 kg), had a hacking cough and was suffering from a brain lesion.[12] When asked about his ex-girlfriend Elena Monica who accused him of infecting her with HIV, Sharkey said, "This disease is funny. One day you're negative and the next day you're positive. And people suffer. I don't think she suffered from me."[10] Monica won her lawsuit against Sharkey by default judgment after his death (Sharkey declined to challenge her suit when it was originally filed), but she received no compensation from his estate because the actor had very little money.[13]

On June 11, 1993, Sharkey died of complications from AIDS at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, at age 40.[14] He is interred in Saint Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York.

In June 1993, shortly after Sharkey's death, a Beverly Hills graphic designer, who said she had an on-and-off relationship with Sharkey from 1985 to 1991, announced that she was suing Sharkey's estate. The woman, who was only identified as "Joyce", cared for Sharkey in his final months and said that she believed that she too had contracted HIV from Sharkey after she was diagnosed with the virus in April 1992.[15]


Year Title Role Notes
1974 The Lords of Flatbush Student
1976 Trackdown Flash
1977 Hot Tomorrows Louis
1977 Stunts Paul Salerno
1978 Who'll Stop the Rain Smitty Alternative title: Dog Soldiers
1978 Paradise Alley Legs
1980 Heart Beat Ira
1980 Willie & Phil Phil D'Amico
1980 The Idolmaker Vincent "Vinnie" Vacarri
1982 Regina Roma Alternative title: Regina
1982 Love and Money Byron Levin
1982 Some Kind of Hero Sgt. Vinnie DiAngelo
1984 Body Rock Terrence
1984 Du-beat-e-o Du-beat-e-o Alternative title: We're All Crazy Now
1985 Hellhole Silk
1986 Wise Guys Marco
1986 No Mercy Angles Ryan
1987 P.I. Private Investigations Ryan Alternative title: Private Investigations
1989 Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills Frank
1989 Wired Angel Velasquez
1990 27 Wagons Full of Cotton Silva Direct-to-video release
1990 Act of Piracy Jack Wilcox
1990 The Rain Killer Capra
1992 Caged Fear Warden Hayes Alternative title: Jail Force
1992 Zebrahead Richard Alternative title: The Colour of Love
1992 Dead On: Relentless II Kyle Valsone Direct-to-video release
1992 Round Trip to Heaven Stoneface
1993 Cop and a Half Vinnie Fountain
Year Title Role Notes
1974 Kojak Det. Gallagher 4 episodes
1975 On the Rocks Opie Episode: "Champion"
1975 All in the Family Man At Clinic Episode: "Chain Letter"
1975 Barney Miller Various roles 2 episodes
1975 The Jeffersons Robert Phelps Episode: "Tennis Anyone?"
1976 Police Story Pete Samper Episode: "Payment Deferred"
1977 The Streets of San Francisco Benny Lester Episode: "Time Out"
1977 Best Friends Lionel "Big O" Lapidus Television movie
1981 The Ordeal of Bill Carney Bill Carney Television movie
1985 Miami Vice Bobby Profile Episode: "Tale of the Goat"
1985 The Equalizer Geoffery Dryden Episode: "Desperately"
1986 Faerie Tale Theatre Grand Vizier Episode: "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp"
1986 Crime Story U.S. Atty. Harry Breitel Television movie
1986-1987 Crime Story U.S. Atty. Harry Breitel 5 episodes
1987–1989 Wiseguy Sonny Steelgrave 10 episodes
1989 The Neon Empire Junior Molov Television movie
1989 The Revenge of Al Capone Scarface Television movie
1989 The Hitchhiker Eric Coleman Episode: "In Living Color"
1990 American Playwrights Theater: The One-Acts Silva Vaccaro Episode: "27 Wagons Full of Cotton"
1990 The Take Dennis Television movie
1990 Good Cops, Bad Cops Capt. Gerry Clemente Television movie
1991 The Man in the Family Sal Bavasso 7 episodes
1991 Riders in the Sky Spongehead Episode: "Saddle Pals"
1992 Jake and the Fatman Michael "Mickey" Daytona Da Silva Episode: "Beautiful Dreamer"
1992 Chrome Soldiers Gabe Ricci Television movie
1992 In the Line of Duty: Street War Det. Victor Tomasino Television movie
1992 The Ray Bradbury Theater The Father Episode: "By the Numbers"

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Title of work Result
1981 Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy The Idolmaker Won
1982 Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV The Ordeal of Bill Carney Nominated
1988 Viewers for Quality Television Awards Founder's Award Wiseguy Won


  1. 1 2 3 4 Gliatto, Tom (August 24, 1992). "Drugs, Sex and Turmoil". people.com. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  2. Kleiner, Dick (July 3, 1982). "Sharkey Left Troubled Brooklyn Behind to Make It In The Movies". Daily Times. p. 14. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  3. 1 2 "New found fame hard on actor's nerves". The Phoenix. August 25, 1980. p. A9. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 Schindehette, Susan; Alexander, Michael (February 27, 1989). "Healthy, Wealthy and a Wiseguy No Longer, Rehabbed Ray Sharkey Is Looking at a Bright Future". people.com. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  5. "TV reruns allow return of bad guy on 'Wiseguy'". The Telegraph. June 20, 1988. p. 32. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  6. Arrest Costs Ray Sharkey Role in Series latimes.com. Braxton, Greg. 1991-08-01
  7. "Parton is nobody's fool". Star-News. May 22, 1981. p. 2C. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  8. Hicks, Katherine (November 17, 1992). "Drugs, not AIDS, led to divorce". The Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1C. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  9. "Actor's Daughter Charged With Beating Boyfriend's Mother to Death with Bat | Patch". Retrieved 2015-10-03.
  10. 1 2 Gerhart, Ann (July 7, 1993). "Tattle". philly.com. p. 2. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  11. 1 2 Gliatto, Tom (June 28, 1993). "Fatal Deceit". People. 39 (25). ISSN 0093-7673.
  12. Gerhart, Ann (July 7, 1993). "Tattle". philly.com. p. 1. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
  13. "A Spirited Fight Against HIV Model/Actress Infected With HIV Pushes AIDS Research Organization Into Spotlight". Miami Herald. November 27, 1995. p. 1C.
  14. Lueck, Thomas J. (1993-06-12). "Ray Sharkey, 40; Actor Often Played Role of Tough Guy". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  15. "Hollywood and AIDS". philly.com. June 22, 1993. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
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