One of Port Washington’s lesser-known, well-known denizens is a man of varied talents, although you probably know him best as the ringside coach in the movie Rocky.
Burt Young lives quietly in an historic 120-year-old renovated village building on Main Street overlooking the harbor. In person, Young is modest and soft spoken, quite a contrast from his movie roles, in many of which his portrayal is that of a loud, wisecracking tough guy.
Born 73 years ago in Corona, Queens, Young gained worldwide fame for his iconic role as “Paulie” in all six Rocky movies. A little-known fact from the first movie is that Young was paid more than Sylvester Stallone, because Young was a more established actor. Young was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in that 1976 movie.
Young is about to step into the Port Washington spotlight, performing his latest play, Artist Found in Port Washington Flat, in January at the library. Flat is a one character 90-minute work in which Young appears on stage playing against a hologram of himself which will be projected on a large screen.
Young first became aware of Port Washington because he had a boat docked here. “That’s how I discovered this place,” he said, referring both to the town and the renovated building he’s lived in for over seven years. “I had a big fat house in Beverly Hills and a big fat mortgage to go with it and an apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. I like Port so much because it’s so close to the city and I like to take the railroad in when I need to.”
But few area residents who encounter him on the street or in one of his favorite Port restaurants (Louie’s and La Piccola Liguria to name just two) know about his other interests and accomplishments other than having appeared in over 100 movies.
In addition to being a classically trained actor at the Actors’ Studio with the legendary Lee Strasberg, Young is an avid lifelong painter, an ex-Marine, a former professional boxer who won all 17 of his fights, the author of a series of children’s books, a yet-to-be published novel and several plays, movie and television scripts. He even ran in the New York City Marathon.
Young is also an avid painter. So many of his vividly colored works are displayed in his spacious one bedroom apartment that he’s had to put many of his pieces in storage. Even with that, “I’m running out of space,” he admits.
His tough talking public image led to his taking part in the marathon. “I was appearing on a lot of talk shows back then with a big cigar in my mouth and boasting,” he said, recalling his 1984 entry into the race. “So I figured that I had to do it. I can’t be a phony. But it took me over seven hours to do it. I had a drink or two along the route.”
Young has many friends in the sports, entertainment and political worlds and is especially fond of Muhammad Ali, who has been his friend since the 70’s. “I sparred with Ali for three rounds just after he lost his championship to Leon Spinks in 1978, but when I first met Ali I didn’t like him,” Young said. “He was too loud. I’m a Marine and I’m a quiet guy, but we became great friends. He was so funny. He was so quick and he would tease everyone like crazy.
Young remains “very passionate” about his work. “Acting is my favorite though. I live so fully when I perform. And when I write I feel very bright. When I look at what I’ve written I can’t believe I’m so clever. I surprise myself sometimes.”