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Schenectady's DiCocco became a friend to the stars

Schenectady's DiCocco became a friend to the stars

He counts Tom Hanks, Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicholson among his friends
Schenectady's DiCocco became a friend to the stars
Paulie DiCocco talks about his experieces recently at Shaffer Heights in Schenectady.
Photographer: bill Buell/for the daily gazette

Paulie DiCocco has certainly had an exciting life. He went to Laker games with Jack Nicholson, got Christmas cards from Tom Hanks, and talked movies with Robert De Niro.

Having recently relocated to Las Vegas after spending a few years back in his hometown of Schenectady, DiCocco is anxious to see De Niro's new movie, "The Irishman," based on the true story of mob hitman Frank Sheeran, played by De Niro. The movie opened in a few local theaters last week, and on Wednesday, all three hours and 29 minutes of it became available on NetFlix.

"I was driving De Niro around back in 2009 when he was doing 'Little Fockers,' and he was talking about this movie back then," remembered DiCocco, who along with serving as chauffeur for some of Hollywood's biggest names also got to do a handful of small roles in some of their films. "His assistant googled my father's name and when I was driving Bob home one night, he asked me about it."

What they found on the internet was that DiCocco, his father Paul "Legs" DiCocco, and a handful of others were indicted in 1985 by the state's Organized Crime Task Force for their involvement in illegal gambling.  Both DiCocco's got five years probation, but remained out of jail, and Paulie made a commitment to himself that he would never again be in that same situation.

"I told my father, I'm not going to do this anymore, ever," remembered DiCocco earlier this month. "I stopped. That was it."

Two years after his arrest, DiCocco, who was a member of the teamster's union, started working as Nicholson's driver during the filming of "Ironweed" in Albany. Along with driving Nicholson to a Lakers-Celtics playoff game that year, he also snuck Nicholson and co-star Meryl Streep into a matinee at Colonie Center.

"I can't remember the name of the movie, but I got them in, one at a time, without them being recognized," said DiCocco. "They sat together and I sat by myself in the back, and I think there might have been just one other person in the theater."

DiCocco, a 1969 Linton High graduate, actually got his start working for movie stars when he chauffeured Barbra Streisand around Schenectady and Ballston Spa during the filming of "The Way We Were" back in 1973. The two reconnected in 2009 on the set of "Little Fockers."

"I told her how I drove her around during 'The Way We Were,' and she remembered and mentioned how the Union College campus was so nice," said DiCocco. "She also asked me  what the name of the town was where we shot the dinner scene. I told her, 'Ballston Spa,' and she remembered that being so nice. We had a great chat and she was so nice."

DiCocco didn't work again with the film industry until his first experience with Nicholson in "Ironweed" 14 years later.

"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."

Since 1987, DiCocco worked steadily with Hollywood 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."

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