The Truth About Henry Hill's Death

Mafia are just like the rest of us — especially if you aspire to die by being shot in the head, which happened with alarming frequency in Martin Scorsese's The Irishman and, actually, throughout the annals of organized crime. It's not the only way to go — after getting out of Alcatraz, Capone himself perished as a result of a stroke and heart attack in Florida, but that was after a long slide into mental incapacity from untreated syphilis. Bonnie and Clyde, though not Mafia, took a couple to the head — and just about everywhere else. Jessie James, Butch and Sundance — it's a long American tradition. For criminals, anyway.

So maybe it comes as a surprise that Henry Hill, the gangster who inspired the book Wiseguy and Ray Liotta's performance in Goodfellas (again, Scorsese, not to mention a segment of Animaniacs) didn't die of lead poisoning, so to speak. No; Hill, what his criminal compadres would call a rat, had a much more boring (though perhaps not for him) exit to the choir invisible.

Biography tells us that Hill aspired to hoodlumhood from the age of 12. His problem was that he wasn't 100% Italian — his father was Irish, his mother Sicilian — but that didn't stop him from giving it the good ol' college try. The Luchese crime family ruled Hill's neighborhood and Hill became involved in gambling and the drug trade.

A head reportedly worth $1 million to somebody

He served a hitch in the Army while maintaining mob contacts. Once home he got back in the game, until he was sent to prison for 10 years for extortion. Out after four years, he used his prison contacts to expand his drug business. Arrested in 1980 for trafficking in narcotics — he was an addict and alcoholic — and a substantial suspect in a theft from Lufthansa Airlines, Hill was convinced he was on a mob hit list. With trouble from both ends, Hill turned informant. His information eventually led to 50 convictions. He and his family entered the Witness Protection Program, which seems wise. His wife left him in 1990; in the early '90s he blew his cover, including arrests for burglary, assault, and three DWIs, and was kicked out of the program; in 2001 he was arrested on narcotics charges; and according to ABC News, the mafia put out a $1 million bounty on him.

Some say Hill turned a new leaf in his later years, selling his own brand of spaghetti sauce online and frequently calling the Howard Stern Show. He took classes to become a drug and alcohol counselor. He created paintings. But June 12, 2012, Hill died in Los Angeles, not from a mob bullet, but from heart complications related to smoking, according to his obituary in the LA Times. He was 69.