Some sad news from the crime community today: Henry Hill, the former close associate of the Lucchese crime family whose life story was made into the classic 1990 film GoodFellas, has died in a Los Angeles hospital. His manager and fiancée, Lisa Caserta, told TMZ that Hill “had been sick for a long time…his heart gave out.”
This is unhappy news, to be certain, but it does send a strange vibe around the Criminal Complex offices as well. As soft, pudgy college boys, we have this weird reverence-slash-fear for mafiosi, sort of like with our fathers. We respect the fact that they are iconoclasts who work with impunity outside the system, but we also know them to be bullies and thugs with no consideration for anyone but themselves.
So yes, Henry Hill was the direct inspiration of one of the greatest (if not the greatest) gangster films of all time. But Henry Hill was also a pretty craven vulture of a guy, profiting off the pain and suffering inflicted by the Luccheses and their associates without even getting his own hands dirty a lot of the time. Plus, he then turned rat, suckled at the government teat for years and lived off taxpayer dollars, and then after the huge success of GoodFellas, he became almost like a cartoon character, becoming a regular on The Howard Stern Show and shilling spaghetti sauce.
Ugh, this is a real asshole obituary. The man is dead, and whether I’m comfortable with it or not, his legacy has had a profound impact on how I live my life. How about I close with this story:
If you have read Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, the true-crime book that Pileggi then turned into the screenplay for GoodFellas, then you know how word-for-word Pileggi kept Hill’s story, as well as that of his long-suffering wife Karen. I had seen GoodFellas more than a few times before I read the book, and as usual the book gave me an even deeper insight into the story than did the movie (the movie is about as close as you can possibly get, but still, read the book if you haven’t). I was working the graveyard shift at a gas station in downtown San Diego, reading about the infamous exploits of this now-famous criminal, and I said to myself, “This is what you’re gonna do. Not become a criminal, but you’re gonna hustle and scam your way outta this bullshit job, because you’ve got balls.” It’s a flat and overly masculine way of looking at things, but look at me now, writing like a goddamn professional.
Good trip, sweetheart. We’ll watch the homefront.