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Henry Hill was a member of the Lucchese crime family who became a federal informant, inspiring the Martin Scorsese movie Goodfellas.
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Henry Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 11, 1943. Although not related by blood, Hill worked his way up in the Lucchese crime family from a young age. Arrested for drug trafficking in 1980, Hill became a federal informant and joined the Witness Protection Program for a number of years. Hill’s life is the basis of the 1990 Martin Scorsese movie Goodfellas.
Born on June 11, 1943 in Brooklyn, New York, Henry Hill grew up in an area of Brooklyn that was dominated by the Lucchese crime family. Fascinated by gangsters, he began dreaming of being in the Mafia at age 12.
The son of an Irish father and Sicilian mother, Hill could never be a "made" Mafia member because he wasn't a full-blooded Italian, but his charm and cunning made him welcome inside the Lucchese crime family. Hill soon became a close associate and friend of Paul Vario, one of the more respected capos in the family. In his teenage years, Hill would do errands for Vario and his crew, and eventually moved to more serious crime. His time in the Mafia would span three decades, beginning in 1955.
Hill lived up to the gangster image by having a number of affairs and staying out until all hours, drinking, partying and playing cards. After beating up a non-paying gambler whose sister happened to work at the F.B.I., Hill was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Once inside, he soon realized that Mafia members received preferential treatment by convicts and guards, who were paid off by crime families.
After his release, Hill used his prison narcotics contacts to shift large amounts of cocaine from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh. As his operation grew, so did Hill's own addiction to the drug. It was only when Hill realized he was next on the hit list that he became a federal witness. His testimony brought down some of New York's most feared mobsters, including Paul Vario.
Hill, his wife and their two children entered the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program in 1980. Two years later—after moving his family to Nebraska, and then Kentucky—Hill was thrown out of the program for blowing his cover.
His story was depicted in the bestselling novel Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, and made famous by Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990). Ray Liotta played Hill in the Academy Award-winning film. Pileggi's wife, Nora Ephron, also used Hill as the inspiration behind the film, My Blue Heaven, which starred Steve Martin as former mobster Vincent "Vinnie" Antonelli. Some view it as a prequel to Goodfellas, since it was released a month prior.
After being kicked out of the Witness Protection Program, Hill moved to the West Coast with his girlfriend of 14 years, Lisa Caserta. In his later years, Hill worked to come to terms with his past, taking classes to be certified as a drug and alcohol counselor. Despite his efforts at redemption, many still viewed Hill as a rat and a drug addict, even in his old age. Hill also became a frequent guest on The Howard Stern Show, where he often discussed his past.
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Bootleggers, smugglers, drug dealers, hit men—all these occupations are the provenance of mobsters, who operate in ethnic, family and business networks. Mobsters' real life crimes, and Hollywood's fascination with them, has earned them a special place in the American imagination. From Al Capone's Chicago crime ring to Bugsy Siegel's Las Vegas racket, these mobsters have made their names notorious from coast to coast.
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