The Truth About Mobster Henry Hill

In the 1990 classic crime film Goodfellas, Henry Hill's life is presented as the quintessential American rags-to-riches story, told from the perspective of a former Lucchese crime associate turned FBI informant. After reading Wiseguy, the 1985 Nicholas Pileggi book based on Hill's life, director Martin Scorsese adapted it into Goodfellas, a full-length feature that brought audiences into the world of organized crime. The film turned Hill (played by Ray Liotta) into one of the most well-known members of the Italian mafia, and he eventually became a staple of pop culture. While many know of Hill's life from the film, there was a crucial amount of information that was either left out or fictionalized.

Many remember what the BBC calls "The Copa Shot," the epic single-take shot in Goodfellas of Hill escorting his then-girlfriend Karen (played by Lorraine Bracco) through the Copacabana night club in New York City. The truth behind that scene was questioned by former Colombo mob associate and reformed criminal mastermind Michael Franzese. During one of his podcasts (on YouTube), Franzese said Hill would have never walked through the kitchen of the ritzy mob hangout without being accompanied by someone else in his crew, like Paulie Vario (Paul Cicero in the movie). Franzese also mentioned he didn't think Vario and Hill were really that close in real life: "In the movie it was depicted that he was with him, that he knew him, that Paulie treated him like a son. I don't believe that to be true. I knew those guys, I knew that crew fairly well."

Henry Hill's life as depicted in the movie

While Hill's relationship with Paul Vario may be questionable, Franzese did admit that Hill was close with Tommy DeSimone and Jimmy Burke: "He ... was part of Jimmy Burke's crew. He did know Tommy DeSimone, obviously." Burke — whose last name was changed to Conway for the film — was played by Robert De Niro, while Tommy DeSimone — last name changed to DeVito — was played by Joe Pesci, who also received an Oscar for his portrayal. Leading up to meeting Burke and DeSimone, Hill spent a lot of time mingling with mobsters, learning the rules of the mafia world. According to Biography, it's true that Hill began running errands for the mafia at a young age.

Hill's wife, Karen, really was unaware of Hill's connections when they first started dating, but would later accept it once she discovered the truth. The famous "Lufthansa Heist" scene in the movie was also based on true events, which, at the time, was the biggest heist ever pulled in America. Those involved ended up stealing $5 million, along with $850,000 in jewelry — with inflation, that would translate to $23 million today.

In the film, it's not mentioned that Hill spent time in the U.S. Army and would be discharged after starting a fight and stealing a sheriff's car. According to ESPN, Hill was the main guy behind the Boston College point shaving scandal during the 1978-79 season.

Henry Hill's life not covered in 'Goodfellas'

Through some of his closest ties, Hill was able to get a few basketball players from Boston College to shave points off the spread so Hill and his crew could bet and make a profit. "It was great," said Hill. "There was a lot of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll ... and missed shots." After his arrest for narcotics-trafficking in 1980, according to ABC News, Hill, his wife Karen, and their children changed their names and relocated 10 times around the country while part of the witness protection program. Henry and Karen would later separate and divorce.

According to the UK's Telegraph (via ABC News), Hill made $550,000 from Goodfellas but still owed millions of dollars. "The government said a couple of hundred million dollars went through my hands," Hill said — and he made $15,000 and $40,000 per week but "blew it on slow horses, women, drugs and rock n' roll."

Aside from various crime schemes, Hill became a painter (that's one of his works, above) and wrote a cookbook called The Wiseguy Cookbook: My Favorite Recipes From My Life As A Goodfella To Cooking On The Run. Hill would go on to give interviews on many shows such as The Howard Stern Show, 60 Minutes, and Locked Up Abroad. In 2012, his long life of drugs, gambling, and violence came to an end. Hill died at the age of 69, per Independent. Hill's partner Lisa said with a smile: "He went out pretty peacefully ... For a goodfella."