SCHENECTADY — Paul A. DiCocco Jr., known as Paulie to his friends both in Schenectady and Hollywood, died late Tuesday night at his home near West Palm Beach, Florida.
The son of notorious Schenectady racketeer Paul “Legs” DiCocco, he had been in ill health lately and had moved to Florida last year to spend time with a daughter.
A 1969 Linton High graduate and a longtime member of the Teamsters Union, DiCocco worked as a chauffeur for a number of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Jack Nicholson, Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro and Tom Hanks. DiCocco also became a member of Actors Equity after earning bit parts in a number of films, most notably with Nicholson in “Ironweed” (1987) and with Hanks in “Forrest Gump” (1994).
Lawrence DiCocco of Schenectady confirmed his cousin’s death Thursday, telling the Gazette a memorial service will be held sometime in the spring, most likely in Florida or Schenectady.
“He was colorful, and everybody got along with Paulie,” said DiCocco, who has owned and operated an accounting firm, DiCocco and Associates, on upper Union Street in Schenectady for more than 50 years. “My father and his dad were brothers, and we all grew up together at my grandmother’s and DiCocco’s Luncheonette [in Schenectady’s Little Italy neighorhood]. He was a very warm guy, and a great athlete.”
Paulie DiCocco returned home in 2017 and lived at the Schaefer Senior Center on Nott Terrace for two years before moving back out west to Las Vegas in 2019.
“I hadn’t seen too much of him after he moved outside the area, but we did get together a few months ago when I was down in Florida,” said Lawrence DiCocco. “We met for lunch midway between where I was staying and where he was around West Palm Beach. His daughter drove him there and we had a wonderful time. I’m so glad that we did that.”
Paul DiCocco Sr., who died in 1989, was a longtime associate of New York mobster Carmine Galante. He was arrested a number of times for his involvement in illegal gambling, and in 1985 both Paul and Paulie were indicted by the state’s Organized Crime Task Force. Both eventually received sentences of five years on probation.
In 2019, Paulie DiCocco told the Gazette his 1985 arrest in Schenectady changed his life.
“I told my father, I’m not going to do this anymore, ever,” remembered DiCocco in November of 2019. “I stopped. That was it.”
Two years after the 1985 arrest, DiCocco was driving for Nicholson during the filming of “Ironweed” in Albany and parts of Schenectady County. DiCocco and Nicholson, who starred in the film with Meryl Streep, were regular visitors during that time to Perreca’s Bakery on North Jay Street in Schenectady, right around the corner from DiCocco’s Luncheonette on South Avenue.
“I am so sorry to hear that,” said Perreca’s co-owner Maria Papa, regarding DiCocco’s passing. “He was a very generous person and very entrepreneurial. He went off to Los Angeles to be a friend of all these big stars, but he was always so proud of Schenectady and his roots. He had a great family.”
Papa said a visit from DiCocco, especially when someone like Nicholson was with him, was always a welcome pleasure.
“He used to boast about the neighborhood here, and talking about Perecca’s Bread always came along with that,” she said. “I can remember them coming by, and Paulie would tell him what our neighborhood had to offer. He was a great guy. Paulie could land on Mars and just start making friends. He had that kind of personality.”
Nick Falvo, owner of Schenectady Auto Service on Van Vranken Avenue, became friends with DiCocco when they played baseball together for all-star teams from Northside Little League and Schenectady Babe Ruth.
“He was a great baseball player, and a great softball player after high school,” Falvo said of DiCocco. “And, he was the type of guy who could make friends with anyone and talk to just about anyone. He was a real gentleman.”
DiCocco had his first brush with Hollywood’s elite when he served as a driver for Barbara Streisand during the filming of “The Way We Were,” shot in and around Schenectady during the summer/fall of 1972. When he started driving for Nicholson during the filming of “Ironweed” in 1986, DiCocco used that experience to help get him to the West Coast where he continued to work for Nicholson and other actors as well.
Along with Nicholson, Hanks, DeNiro and Williams, he also drove for Liam Neeson, Dennis Quaid, Harrison Ford, Tim Allen and John Cusack.
DiCocco remembered his first experience with Nicholson during the filming of “Ironweed” in a candid 2019 interview with the Gazette.
“I got paid around the clock to drive him around and we hit it off pretty well,” said DiCocco. “He told me he wanted to put me in the movie as the bus driver. Well, they had to get a special bus from Palo Alto in California, and the contract said that one of their drivers must drive the bus. What happens is Nicholson goes into the producer’s motor home and I hear all this yelling. The producer came out and he’s all flustered. He looks at me and says, ‘Nicholson says if you’re not driving the bus, he’s not gonna get on it.’ So I got the part and that’s what put me into the Screen Actor’s Guild.”
Nicholson wasn’t done. He then went to the director and told him to give DiCocco’s character something to say.
“There wasn’t a line for me, but Jack said, ‘He’s a local, you gotta give him a line,'” remembered DiCocco, laughing as he told the story. “So they wrote a line or two for me. Since then I would get a check as a teamster and a check for being an actor. I still get residuals.”
DiCocco worked steadily with Hollywood royalty up until 2011. He drove Hanks on nine different movies, including “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Cast Away” and “Apollo 13,” and also had a small role in “Forrest Gump.” DiCocco also worked as Robin Williams’ driver on numerous occasions and became close with the comic actor, and he also chauffeured stars such as Dennis Quaid, Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford, Tim Allen and John Cusack, to name just a few.
It was fellow Linton High grad Pat Riley, a former NBA player and coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and New York Knickerbockers, who got DiCocco his regular gig with the movie industry.
“Pat was good friends with our family and he’s the one that got me the job driving Nicholson around,” remembered DiCocco. “What a book I could write. The stories I could tell.”