Having acquired a reputation as a skilled character actor in the 1980s and 1990s, Pastorelli's career went into decline after the death of his girlfriend in mysterious circumstances at his home in 1999. He died of a narcotic overdose in 2004.
Pastorelli was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the son of Ledo Pastorelli, an insurance salesman and Dotty, an artist. He was of Albanian descent from Italy. His sister, Gwen Pastorelli, is an opera singer and a real estate agent.
Pastorelli was raised in Edison, New Jersey, and graduated from Edison High School in 1972. He initially intended a career as a professional boxer, but had to abandon the sport due to injuries sustained in a near-fatal high-speed car crash at the age of 19 (he later claimed that he had a "near death" experience at this time, and that he had experienced himself looking down from above upon his body in a hospital bed with his father at the bedside overcome with grief). Pastorelli acquired a narcotic habit in his early twenties prior to his acting career, which he overcame, but which he would relapse into throughout his later life.
Pastorelli entered acting via New York City theater in the late 1970s, after studying at the New York Academy of Theatrical Arts and the Actors Studio, whilst financially maintaining himself working as a bar-tender. He made his stage debut in 1977 in a production of Rebel Without a Cause. He also performed in productions of The Rainmaker, and Death of a Salesman. Later in his career he performed at London's South Bank theater in A Streetcar Named Desire in 2002.
In 1982 Pastorelli headed west to Los Angeles seeking opportunities in Hollywood. Spending the early 1980s employed in television bit-part appearances, he found a niche playing streetwise characters, appearing also in supporting roles in Outrageous Fortune (1987) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987). His first substantial film role came with Dances with Wolves (1990). His big break in television came in the role of the gruff but lovable house painter "Eldin Bernecky" on the series Murphy Brown, and he stayed with the show for seven seasons from 1988 to 1994. Murphy Brown producer Diane English was sufficiently impressed with his abilities that she worked with him to produce his first starring vehicle, the television sitcom Double Rush which lasted one season in 1995. Two years later, he starred in the American adaptation of the British detective series Cracker (1997–1999).
As his television career gained momentum Pastorelli's opportunities in cinema films increased: Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993); a career defining performance playing a demented serial killer in the 1993 murder mystery thriller Striking Distance, although the movie was not a commercial success; Eraser (1996), Michael (1996), and Modern Vampires (1998).
On the evening of March 15, 1999, during an incident at his Hollywood home, Pastorelli's 25-year-old girlfriend, Charemon Jonovich, was killed by a gunshot to the head. During the authorities' investigation that followed, Pastorelli testified that in the midst of an argument between the two of them, she suddenly produced a handgun and killed herself. The incident was investigated as an accident or suicide, and the Los Angeles Coroner's Office declared the cause of death undetermined.
Pastorelli was exonerated of responsibility for Charemon Jonovich's death and received public expressions of sympathy within Hollywood and from the Los Angeles media, but his career went into noticeable decline afterwards. He appeared in two more cinema productions in small roles in the early 2000s as well as some minor supporting roles in television productions. He developed a friendship with the actress Glenn Close towards the end of his career and appeared alongside her in the television films The Ballad of Lucy Whipple and South Pacific in 2001. The next year he again appeared alongside her at London's Royal National Theatre in a performance of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. In 2002 he co-founded the Garden State Film Festival. His posthumous final screen appearance was in the movie Be Cool (2005).
Pastorelli was found dead at his home in Hollywood Hills on March 8, 2004, from a narcotics overdose. At the time of his death, Pastorelli had been forewarned that authorities were planning on arresting him for further questioning. A review of the original evidence of the March 1999 shooting of his girlfriend Charemon Jonovich resulted in her cause of death being reclassified a homicide, and Pastorelli was identified as a prime suspect.
The Coroner's Office reported Pastorelli died of a "fatal blood concentration of morphine".
Pastorelli's body was interred in the mausoleum at Saint Catherine's Cemetery in Sea Girt, New Jersey.
Pastorelli had two daughters, Gianna Li Pastorelli (born February 6, 1998) with Charemon Jonovich, and Giannina Marie Pastorelli (born March 6, 2000) with his then girlfriend, Jalee Carder.Knight Rider as Leroy (1983) Episode – Custom K.I.T.T. Season 2 Episode 8
Newhart as Prisoner (1983) Television series
I Married a Centerfold as Guard (1984)
California Girls as Mechanic (1985)
The A-Team as Dixon (1985)
Beauty and the Beast as Eric Ramos (1987–1988), Television series
Outrageous Fortune as Dealer #2 (1987)
Hands of a Stranger as Handyman (1987) (TV)
Beverly Hills Cop II as Vinnie (1987)
Memories of Me as Al (1988)
Lady Mobster as Matteo Villani (1988)
Murphy Brown as Eldin Bernecky (1988–1994), Television series
Dances with Wolves as Timmons (1990)
The Paint Job as Willie (1992)
Folks! as Fred (1992)
FernGully: The Last Rainforest as Tony (1992)
Striking Distance as Det. Jimmy Detillo (1993)
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit as Joey Bustamante (1993)
Harmful Intent as Devlin O'Shea (1993)
The Yarn Princess as Jake Thomas (1994)
The West Side Waltz as Sookie Cerullo (1995)
Double Rush as Johnny Verona (1995)
Eraser as John "Johnny C" Casteleone (1996)
Michael as Huey Driscoll (1996)
A Simple Wish as Oliver Greening (1997)
Cracker as Gerry Fitzgerald (1997)
Scotch and Milk as The Skipper (1998)
Heist as T-Bone (1998)
Modern Vampires as The Count (1998)
Bait as Jaster (2000)
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple as Clyde Claymore (2001)
South Pacific as Luther Billis (2001)
Treasure Planet as Mertock (2002)
Be Cool as Joe Loop (2005)