It doesn’t take very long to figure out that Randy DeOrio has a very positive outlook on life. And yet, if you listen to the stories he tells, it’s hard to believe he’s got a positive way about him — because he hasn’t had a very easy life.
“I’ve always found people need to have a strong outlook,” DeOrio said. “For me, it wasn’t always easy.”
That’s an understatement.
The man who now has a permanent display at the Paterson Museum (you’ll see why later) was born in Chicago. When he was 12, he moved to Paterson. Back in Chicago was his wealthy, hotel-owning father, who contributed absolutely nothing to his son’s upbringing. In Paterson, his mom tragically died not too long after she moved her son from the Windy City back to her hometown in Jersey.
She was a heavy drinker.
Following his mom’s death, DeOrio found himself on his own with nowhere or anyone to turn to. He had a single bag of belongings that he carried with him everywhere. But he had nowhere to live, despite his father’s wealth, shelter and success.
Imagine that for a second — the son of a well-to-do hotel owner living on the streets. He often had no idea where he’d sleep. Or how he’d eat. But there was something he did have — Paterson — that kept him going.
He knew the city was known for being the home of Larry Doby, the second black man to play in Major League Baseball (and the first in the American League — just three months after Jackie Robinson). He recalled Lou Costello, of Abbott & Costello fame, was also a Paterson resident once.
He said he’s have “conversations” with these guys — where they’d “tell him” that if they could survive the streets of Paterson, so, too, could he.
“It was extraordinary,” DeOrio said. “It was these Paterson guys — and not just Doby and Costello – who made me realize I could get out of this mess.”
And that’s precisely what he did.
Recall earlier we mentioned DeOrio now has a permanent display in the Paterson Museum? That’s because he truly is a native son of the city that is too often known for its negatives. DeOrio boasts an amateur boxing record of 21-5. He sparred with some of boxing’s greats, including Hector Camacho and Roberto Duran.
He’s acted, including TV roles on “Law & Order” and “Blue Bloods.” He’s had a leading role in the movie “The Right to Live.”
He’s written two books — one called “Jaded: A True Story” and the other called “Jaded 2: The Silent Injustice.” Both books revolve around his hometown, and are based on experiences of his own and a female friend.
And if all goes well, he is expected to be cast in a movie — he and his partners are awaiting nearly $50 million in funding from a Chinese bank — that should “go bigtime.” It’s about the life of Bobby Chaz, a professional boxer. He’ll be in the movie — in a major role — and he’ll also be responsible for choreographing the boxing scenes, hardly an easy task.
Combine it all, you’ve got a person who truly represents the city well.
“When I think about the people who are in the museum, I can’t believe I am even mentioned in the same breath,” DeOrio said. “Who am I to be mentioned in the same breath as these people?”
While he remains very modest, DeOrio truly has accomplished a lot in his life.
But it’s really not about his boxing career. Or his life as an author and actor. It’s about the perspective he brings to life, on being able to beat the mean streets of the inner-city, on being successful.
In an interview he once gave to an online TV show, the host asked DeOrio about how he achieved success. His response demonstrated why he beat the streets.
“You have to be at peace with yourself to go forward,” he said. “Realize what you want and go after it with the right reasons. But it’s for the greater good if you want to help people — and that’s what I am trying to do. Right now.”
DeOrio constantly reminds people of this credo: Helping others is the only way to go.
It’s his hope that if one person whose life is in disarray learns of his story — if one person with that single bag over his shoulder walking the streets with nowhere to go learns that he was there, he did that and he still made it — that he’s accomplished his goal.
“My mother died when I was young, and I always thought she left the City of Paterson to me,” DeOrio said. “If I can make it, anyone could. If a guy like me can make it to the Paterson Museum, others can too. The inner-city needs more people who are role models. If I can be part of shaping just one person, I’ve done my job.”
Indeed he has.
Both of DeOrio’s books are available at amazon.com or bn.com.
If you’re looking for a quick, easy and cheap day trip, the Paterson Museum is located at the intersection of Market and Spruce Sts., Paterson, and is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Friday and 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekends. For more details on the museum, call 973-321-1260.