May 8, 1949
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 28, 2001
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Other names||Rockets Red Glare|
|Occupation||Actor, stand-up comedian|
Rockets Redglare (May 8, 1949 – May 28, 2001) was an American character actor and stand-up comedian. He appeared in over 30 films in the 1980s and 1990s, including a number of independent films, and mainstream films such as After Hours (1984) and Desperately Seeking Susan (1985).
He was born Michael Morra in New York City to a heroin-addicted 15-year-old mother named Agnes Tarulli Morra. While still in utero, he became addicted to heroin, so doctors added an opiate derivative into his baby formula so that he could withdraw from the drug. Morra's father and uncle were career criminals in the Italian-American criminal underworld in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. After his father was deported to his native Italy, Agnes began a relationship with a drug-addicted former boxer who assaulted both young Morra and the mother. Morra also spent time being raised by his Aunt, Faye Tarulli LaCapra, in Lindenhurst, NY along with his cousin Madeline LaCapra. After his mother was killed by her boyfriend, Morra took up the stage name Rockets Redglare, from the fifth line of the US national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner.
1970s and 1980s
From 1970 to 1974, Morra spent time at Kinsman Hall, a drug rehab first located in Hauppauge, New York (early 1968) then moving to Hillsdale, New York (late 1968) and eventually went to its new facility located in Jackman, Maine (mid 1970). He entered the program as a resident and moved up the ranks to be employed as a staff member reaching the position of Assistant Residential Director before leaving to return home to New York. In the late 1970s, Morra spent most of his time in the East Village, where he "became a permanent fixture in the punk and porno film scenes." Morra worked as bouncer at the East Village "Red Bar," as a roadie for a band called The Hassles (with a young Billy Joel), and acted as a bodyguard and drug supplier to punk rock bassist Sid Vicious and artist-musician Jean-Michel Basquiat. The night Sid Vicious allegedly killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, Morra had delivered forty capsules of Dilaudid to the couple's room at the Chelsea Hotel. In his book, Pretty Vacant: A History of Punk, Phil Strongman states that he believes Redglare was Nancy Spungen's killer.
Morra began doing stand up comedy routines at East Village bars such as Pyramid and Club 57 in his own show called Taxi Cabaret, and he also did performance art. He made his acting debut in the 1985 Eric Mitchell film The Way It Is, also known as Euridice on the Avenues, a film whose cast also included Steve Buscemi and Vincent Gallo (who also composed the soundtrack). Later that year, he appeared in the Jim Jarmusch film Stranger Than Paradise. He was often cast as a rough or seedy character, which echoed his real-life upbringing and drug addiction problems. Morra was recognized for his acting prowess, but was often passed over for roles by film producers and executives who feared his drug addictions would affect his work.
Morra died in 2001 from a combination of kidney failure, liver failure, cirrhosis and hepatitis C. Morra's death was hastened by his multiple addictions: he admitted that "Anything I ever liked ... I always did to excess," including heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. At the time of his death, Morra was morbidly obese and hospitalized. In 2003, director Luis Fernandez de la Reguera released a documentary about Morra entitled Rockets Redglare! a "portrait of the New York personality from his early days around '50s hustlers to the East Village crowd of the '80s to his tragic death in 2001."
After Morra's death, obituary-writers tried to sum up Morra's varied, colorful, and unusual life in the New York art and music scenes as a bodyguard/roadie turned-actor/comedian. The Chicago Reader called Morra a "... compulsive hustler who became obese once he decided to substitute beer for drugs," and acknowledges that "... he was also a gifted raconteur", especially in informal, relaxed settings. Seattle newspaper The Stranger wrote that Morra became a New York City "alternative celebrity" in the city's East Village bars and clubs where he would drink and tell stories.
|1984||Stranger Than Paradise||Poker player|
|1985||Desperately Seeking Susan||Taxi driver|
|After Hours||Angry Mob Member|
|The Way It Is||Rockets||Alternative titles: The Way It Is or Eurydice in the Avenues
Euridice on the Avenues
|1986||Down by Law||Gig|
|1987||Hotshot||Credited as Rockets Red Glare|
|Salvation!: Have You Said Your Prayers Today?||Ollie|
|1988||Candy Mountain||Van Driver|
|Stars and Bars||Peter Gint|
|Shakedown||Ira||Alternative title: Blue Jean Cop|
|Talk Radio||Killer/Redneck Caller|
|Mystery Train||Liquor Store Clerk||Segment: "Lost in Space"|
|1990||In the Spirit||Bartender|
|In the Soup||Guy|
|1993||What About Me||Frank - Raping Landlord|
|1998||Louis & Frank||Ralph|
|1999||The Diary of the Hurdy-Gurdy Man|
|2000||Animal Factory||Big Rand|
|1996||Musical Shorts with Debi Mazar||Club Owner||Television movie|
- LeVasseur, Andrea. "Rockets Redglare: Biography". allmovie.com.
- Drinking With...Rockets Redglare
- "Obituary: Rockets Redglare". The Independent.
- Morales, Jorge. "Rockets Redglare!". Village Voice.
- "Rockets Redglare!". rottentomatoes.com.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Rockets Redglare: Capsule by". chicagoreader.com.
- Obits - Obits - The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper