Half-Irish, half-Italian mobster Henry Hill, who inspired the film ‘Goodfellas,’ passed away peacefully at a Los Angeles hospital on Tuesday at the age of 69. Hill, who turned to the mob life as he was growing up in Brooklyn, later became famous for becoming a protected informant.
Lisa Caserta, Hill’s longtime manager and partner, told CBS News that the lapsed mobster "went out pretty peacefully, for a goodfella.” Hill was amongst family when he passed on Tuesday. Though no specific cause of death was given, Caserta said that Hill was a heavy smoker for many years and may have suffered complications from a recent heart attack.
Hill, who was born to an Irish father and Italian mother in Brooklyn, was not born into a mob family. Rather, he became fascinated by the idea of “wiseguys” while growing up and later became inducted into capo Paul Vario’s crew.
"In my neighborhood, where I came from in Brooklyn, these were the guys with the silk suits and the diamond rings and the beautiful women," Hill told Charlie Rose on ‘CBS This Morning’ in 2004.
As a member of the mob, Hill most famously took part in the then record-setting $5 million Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy airport in New York in 1978. However, just two years later in 1980, Hill was busted on drug possession charges which marked the end of his mob way of life.
Knowing he had no other viable options in the face of heavy drug charges, Hill accepted a deal with the FBI to offer testimony in exchange for protection and no criminal charges.
"I was in trouble. I knew I was a dead man, no matter how you cut it. If I stayed in prison, I was dead. Went out in the street, I was dead," Hill told Rose. "So, I mean, my choice was already made."
Hill entered the Witness Protection Program along with his two children, Gregg, then 13, and Gina, then 11. In an anonymous interview with ‘60 Minutes’ in 2009, the two said only their spouses know who their father is.
Despite having entered the Witness Protection Program, Hill couldn’t completely remove himself from crime. The New York Daily News reports that 2005, he served six months for possession of methamphetamines while working as a chef in Nebraska. In 2009, he was busted for a bar brawl after having one too many drinks.
Though he’s now passed, Hill will remain immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 flick ‘Goodfellas.’ In it, Ray Liotta portrayed Hill and chronicled his rise in the mob world, the Lufthansa heist, his descent into drugs, and his eventual arrest.
In 2010, Hill told a reporter: “There’s always that chance that some young buck wants to make a name for themselves. I never thought I’d reach this wonderful age. I’m just grateful for being alive.”
Here, check out the trailer for Scorsese’s 1990 film ‘Goodfellas,’ in which Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill:
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore