Henry Hill, the former underworld mobster who became an anti-folk hero when he was immortalized in the film Goodfellas, died in Los Angeles yesterday after a long illness at the age of 69, reports TMZ.
Hill, who was born in Brooklyn, NY, and was an associate for the Lucchese crime syndicate, had been accused throughout that “career” of a litany of Mafia-related offenses, including extortion, theft, kidnapping, assault, and drug dealing. He got out of that dangerous existence by testifying against his former cohorts in the mob, leading to lengthy prison sentences for them and a place in the Witness Protection Program for him. As a result, it forced him to live in rural existences deep in the midwest of America.
Hill didn’t keep a low profile, however. He wrestled with a drug and alcohol addiction and was ultimately removed from the Protection Program when he kept getting arrested and refusing to lay low. A lot of this was due to the fact that he became a “celebrity” of sorts when director Martin Scorsese immortalized and lionized his life in the 1990 release Goodfellas, a film which today is considered a classic in the mob movie genre. Starring Ray Liotta as Hill, the film showed the realities of the Cosa Nostra style of existence that Hill lived, warts and all, deglamorizing and showing the life in a very reverse style as films like The Godfather had presented before it. Hill went on record denouncing film that glorified life in the Mafia, but he did have a penchant for The Sopranos, however, which also showed characters that were flawed and devoid of beauty in many forms.
In reflection, he commented that he probably “saved lives” by putting his old colleagues away in prison when he did, but wasn’t comfortable in doing so, stating that “the stigma of being a rat is hard to live with.” Hill also said that he was fine with watching movies or programs that reminded him of his former crime life and that he “never took that whole life seriously” because he “owned his past.”
Hill is survived by a son and daughter from a marriage to his ex-wife Karen Friedman. Hill’s “legacy,” if one can call it that, will live on in Goodfellas and subsequent films and shows patterning or documenting the life of a man who certainly lived by the skin of his teeth and almost singlehandedly became an individual who was a catalyst for “humanizing” the Mafia. Almost a contradiction in itself in a way if one thinks about it. So long, Henry.
[Source: TMZ via UPI]