Just a dozen years ago, Lillo Brancato Jr. was going to be a star. On Saturday, authorities say he took part in a shootout with that left a cop dead.
The unknown actor earned critical acclaim opposite his idol, Robert De Niro, in the 1993 movie "A Bronx Tale." He played the Oscar winner's son in the story of a teen torn between two role models -- a local mobster and his dad -- in a heavily Italian Bronx neighborhood.
From there, Brancato, a native of Colombia, went on to appear in more than a dozen films, including "Renaissance Man," "Crimson Tide," "Enemy of the State" and "The Adventures of Pluto Nash." Brancato later enjoyed a recurring role on "The Sopranos," eventually getting executed by fictional mob boss Tony Soprano in one of the series' more memorable departures.
But on Saturday, the actor was far from the bright lights and red carpets of Hollywood fame. Instead, police said, he was breaking into the basement of a vacant Bronx house when a gunfight erupted and an off-duty city police officer was killed.
Brancato was just 16 when De Niro launched a search for non-professionals to appear in his 1993 directorial debut, the film version of Chazz Palminteri's play "A Bronx Tale." Brancato was discovered by a casting director strolling along the sands at Jones Beach; he came out of the water and wowed him with impressions of De Niro and Joe Pesci.
In a New York Times profile, he was described as "friendly, earnest, sweet-tempered, a fast talker, a salesman, the kind of goofy tough guy who once upon a time used to hang out on a city street corner." Brancato, 29, was raised by adoptive parents, and he still resided in the city just north of the Bronx.
Brancato, born in Bogota, Colombia, was adopted when he was 4 months old. "I consider myself Italian," he once said. "I was raised to eat pasta."
In 1999-2000, he appeared in a half-dozen episodes of "The Sopranos" as a dim-witted aspiring mobster. In one episode, his character worked a high-stakes card game where the players included Frank Sinatra Jr.
Brancato also starred in the short-live TV mob show "Falcone," and guest-starred in a 2002 episode of "NYPD Blue."
His most recent appearance in the headlines came in June, when Brancato was arrested by Yonkers police after they discovered four glassine bags of heroin during a routine traffic stop.