Original Goodfella Henry Hill Dead At 69

Henry Hill, the man behind the story that eventually became a classic Martin Scorsese film starring Ray Liotta and Robert DeNiro, has died at the age of 69:

Mob rat Henry Hill — who was immortalized in the movie “Goodfellas” and booted from the witness protection program — died Tuesday in Los Angeles after a long illness, TMZ reported. He was 69.

“His heart gave out,” his girlfriend told the gossip site.

Hill earned his place in gangland history by participating in the 1978 Lufthansa heist at Kennedy Airport, which netted a then-record $5 million. He became one of the most notorious Mafia canaries by turning FBI informant after being busted for pushing drugs. His turncoat testimony helped the feds nab dozens of wiseguys.

Hill spent several years in witness protection with his wife and kids, but was tossed out in the early 1990s because he couldn’t stay out of trouble.

In later years, he was a guest on Howard Stern’s radio show, opened a restaurant called Wiseguys, hosted mob-movie marathons, and hawked his own line of marinara sauce. In a 2008 interview, the one-time Lucchese crime family associate claimed to be reformed, telling the BBC, “I’m doing the right thing now.”

Hill was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to an Irish father and Italian mother. He fell in with local mobsters as a teen and was inducted into capo Paul Vario’s crew.

Martin Scorsese’s 1990 movie “Goodfellas,” starring Ray Liotta as Hill, chronicled his blood-spattered rise in the underworld, the audacious airport ripoff, his descent into the world of drugs and his eventual arrest.

“The government said a couple of hundred million dollars went through my hands. But I just blew it on slow horses, women, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” he told a London newspaper on the 20th anniversary of the release of “Goodfellas.”

“We partied five, six nights a week and I was making $15,000 to $40,000 a week. That was just my end. But I was a degenerate gambler. I could lose $40,000 in a week.”

He said he never killed anyone and turned snitch only because he believed he was going to be whacked.

Hill was never quite able to stay out of trouble, as noted above, and the fact that he wasn’t killed once he became a more public person in the 1990s is as much an indication of the declining influence of the Mafia he was a part as anything else. Of course, it helped that the people he once worked with, like Paul Vario (who looked nothing like Paul Sorvino) and Jimmy Burke (who was no Robert De Niro) were either dead or in Federal Prison by the time he became a public figure.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies ever.

    What I like is that in Goodfellas, Scorcese presented The Mob not as American royalty, as Coppolla did with his Godfather movies, but as working class guys, rough on the edges, who made a career out of crime. Nothing admirable about them, but an interesting American story.

    How Dances With Wolves got the best picture over Goodfellas is a complete mystery to me.

  2. Dazedandconfused says:

    Joe Pesci really is a funny guy….