Lawrence died early Monday at his Palm Springs home from heart failure, according to Alicia Lawrence, the actor's second wife.
"He was the gangster in his movies, that was definitely his style," says Alicia, who married Lawrence two years ago. "But in real life, he was a really good person."
She says that after spending eight days in the hospital a few weeks ago, doctors told the family Lawrence was very sick and likely wouldn't live much longer.
Alicia says at that point, Lawrence decided he wanted to go home.
Born in New York City in 1910, Lawrence acted in plays through high school before attending City College of New York.
After years of stage performances in Eva Le Gallienne's company, Lawrence signed a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1932.
Over the next 60 years, Lawrence would play the mob boss, thug and general bad guy in dozens of films.
"Lawrence was perhaps the only character actor of the 1930s and 1940s still being cast in similar gangsterish roles in the 1980s and 1990s, in such films as The Big Easy (1987) and Ruby (1992)," wrote Leonard Maltin in "Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia."
Lawrence, however, also stepped outside the rogue genre, taking on roles like a mountaineer in "Shepherd of the Hills" in 1941 and an old hotel owner in "From Dusk Till Dawn" in 1996.
During the communist scare in the United States in the 1950s, Lawrence was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he admitted he had once been a Communist Party member.
He also reluctantly implicated several co-workers as alleged communist sympathizers, testimony that blacklisted him and brought his U.S. movie career to a halt.
Lawrence then departed for Europe, where he took on diverse roles in dozens of Italian movies in the 1960s, also directing crime films and spaghetti westerns.
Lawrence returned to the United States in the 1980s, resuming his vetted role as underworld thug. He also wrote and directed low-budget movies, keeping busy into his 90s.
His last movie appearance was "Looney Tunes: Back in America" in 2003, a minor role as one of many Acme vice presidents.
Lawrence is survived by a daughter, Toni Lawrence, and son, Michael Lawrence.
By Peter Prengaman