According to his New York Times obituary, Chuck Low died last month in a New Jersey nursing home at the age of 89. Low will be best remembered by movie fans as Morrie — the toupee salesman who gets in way too deep with the mob in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” — but his career and life stretched well beyond his memorable movie roles.
Born in New York City in 1928, Low was a military veteran who served in the U.S. Army, became an engineer who made marine instruments, and in the 1960s started a real estate partnership with Lehman Brothers. Low became a pioneer developer in Tribeca, playing a key role in the New York City neighborhood’s transformation into luxury lofts and high-end restaurants. It was in this capacity that he met Tribeca’s most famous resident Robert De Niro, who became both Low’s tenant and friend.
It was through De Niro that Low got introduced to acting, playing alongside the Academy Award winner in “The Mission,” “King of Comedy,” “Once Upon a Time in America,” “Goodfellas,” “Mistress,” “Night and the City,” and later was able to even score guest-starring roles in non-De Niro TV shows like “The Sopranos” and “100 Centre Street.”
Low’s first on-screen appearance, in Scorsese’s “King of Comedy” (1982), was akin to in-joke. He sat in the background mimicking the excited hand gestures of Rupert Pupkin (De Niro) on a date with a woman, played by actress Diahnne Abbott, who was De Niro’s wife at the time.
Over time Low’s acting chops grew and in 1990 he turned in an comically astute performance as Morrie, a toupee salesman who hung out with the mobsters in “Goodfellas.” A was a loudmouth who was too anxious to get into business with the crew, he became an easy mark (“Am I schmuck?”) for the mobsters. Needless to say it ends badly for Low’s character, who is threatened with a wire hanger by De Niro’s character in one of the classic film’s most memorable scenes.
Low is the most recent death in the group who made “Goodfellas.” Earlier this year actor Frank Vincent and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus both passed away as well.