Ray Sharkey

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Ray Sharkey
Ray sharkey.jpg
BornRaymond Sharkey, Jr.
(1952-11-14)November 14, 1952
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 11, 1993(1993-06-11) (aged 40)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Complications from AIDS
Resting place
Saint Charles Cemetery
Alma materNew York City Community College
HB Studio
Years active1974–1993
Spouse(s)Rebecca Wood (m. 1981–86)
Carole Graham (m. 1988–92)
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Ray Sharkey
Ray sharkey.jpg
BornRaymond Sharkey, Jr.
(1952-11-14)November 14, 1952
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 11, 1993(1993-06-11) (aged 40)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Complications from AIDS
Resting place
Saint Charles Cemetery
Alma materNew York City Community College
HB Studio
Years active1974–1993
Spouse(s)Rebecca Wood (m. 1981–86)
Carole Graham (m. 1988–92)

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 a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy. He is also known for his role as Sonny Steelgrave in the television series Wiseguy.

Early life[edit]

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 1981, 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[edit]

Marriages and children[edit]

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]

Illness and death[edit]

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.[9][10]

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.[10]

In an interview with Details magazine conducted three months before his death, Sharkey told the reporter 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.[11] 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."[9] Monica won her lawsuit against Sharkey by default judgment after his death (Sharkey declined to challenge her suit when it was originally filed), but received no money from his estate because the actor had very little money.[12]

On June 11, 1993, Sharkey died of complications from AIDS at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.[13] He is interred in Saint Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York.

In 1993, 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 had contracted HIV from Sharkey after she diagnosed with the virus in April 1992.[14]


1974The Lords of FlatbushStudent
1977Hot TomorrowsLouis
1977StuntsPaul Salerno
1978Who'll Stop the RainSmittyAlternative title: Dog Soldiers
1978Paradise AlleyLegs
1980Heart BeatIra
1980Willie & PhilPhil D'Amico
1980The IdolmakerVincent "Vinnie" Vacarri
1982Regina RomaAlternative title: Regina
1982Love and MoneyByron Levin
1982Some Kind of HeroSgt. Vinnie DiAngelo
1984Body RockTerrence
1984Du-beat-e-oDu-beat-e-oAlternative title: We're All Crazy Now
1986Wise GuysMarco
1986No MercyAngles Ryan
1987P.I. Private InvestigationsRyanAlternative title: Private Investigations
1989Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly HillsFrank
1989WiredAngel Velasquez
199027 Wagons Full of CottonSilvaDirect-to-video release
1990Act of PiracyJack Wilcox
1990The Rain KillerCapra
1992Caged FearWarden HayesAlternative title: Jail Force
1992ZebraheadRichardAlternative title: The Colour of Love
1992Dead On: Relentless IIKyle ValsoneDirect-to-video release
1992Round Trip to HeavenStoneface
1993Cop and a HalfVinnie Fountain
1974KojakDet. Gallagher4 episodes
1975On the RocksOpieEpisode: "Champion"
1975All in the FamilyMan At ClinicEpisode: "Chain Letter"
1975Barney MillerVarious roles2 episodes
1975The JeffersonsRobert PhelpsEpisode: "Tennis Anyone?"
1976Police StoryPete SamperEpisode: "Payment Deferred"
1977The Streets of San FranciscoBenny LesterEpisode: "Time Out"
1977Best FriendsLionel "Big O" LapidusTelevision movie
1981The Ordeal of Bill CarneyBill CarneyTelevision movie
1985Miami ViceBobby ProfileEpisode: "Tale of the Goat"
1985The EqualizerGeoffery DrydenEpisode: "Desperately"
1986Faerie Tale TheatreGrand VizierEpisode: "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp"
1986Crime StoryU.S. Atty. Harry BreitelTelevision movie
1986-1987Crime StoryU.S. Atty. Harry Breitel5 episodes
1987–1989WiseguySonny Steelgrave10 episodes
1989The Neon EmpireJunior MolovTelevision movie
1989The Revenge of Al CaponeScarfaceTelevision movie
1989The HitchhikerEric ColemanEpisode: "In Living Color"
1990American Playwrights Theater: The One-ActsSilva VaccaroEpisode: "27 Wagons Full of Cotton"
1990The TakeDennisTelevision movie
1990Good Cops, Bad CopsCapt. Gerry ClementeTelevision movie
1991The Man in the FamilySal Bavasso7 episodes
1991Riders in the SkySpongeheadEpisode: "Saddle Pals"
1992Jake and the FatmanMichael "Mickey" Daytona Da SilvaEpisode: "Beautiful Dreamer"
1992Chrome SoldiersGabe RicciTelevision movie
1992In the Line of Duty: Street WarDet. Victor TomasinoTelevision movie
1992The Ray Bradbury TheaterThe FatherEpisode: "By the Numbers"

Awards and nominations[edit]

YearAwardCategoryTitle of workResult
1981Golden Globe AwardBest Motion Picture Actor - Musical/ComedyThe IdolmakerWon
1982Golden Globe AwardBest Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TVThe Ordeal of Bill CarneyNominated
1988Viewers for Quality Television AwardsFounder's AwardWiseguyWon


  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^ a b "New found fame hard on actor's nerves". The Phoenix. August 25, 1980. p. A9. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b Gerhart, Ann (July 7, 1993). "Tattle". philly.com. p. 2. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Gliatto, Tom (June 28, 1993). "Fatal Deceit". People 39 (25). ISSN 0093-7673. 
  11. ^ Gerhart, Ann (July 7, 1993). "Tattle". philly.com. p. 1. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 
  12. ^ "A Spirited Fight Against HIV Model/Actress Infected With HIV Pushes AIDS Research Organization Into Spotlight". Miami Herald. November 27, 1995. p. 1C. 
  13. ^ Lueck, Thomas J. (1993-06-12). "Ray Sharkey, 40; Actor Often Played Role of Tough Guy". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  14. ^ "Hollywood and AIDS". philly.com. June 22, 1993. Retrieved January 30, 2013. 

External links[edit]