The True Story Behind The Mobster Who Inspired The Sopranos

Contains spoilers for The Sopranos

"The Sopranos," which concluded in 2007 after six glorious seasons, is remembered today as one of the shows that ushered in the new golden age of television. According to a poll by Rolling Stone, it is the greatest TV show of all time, which comes as no surprise: its jet-black brand of comedy prefigures that of "Breaking Bad," while its masterful plotting matches another 2000s classic, "The Wire," thanks to its narrative intricacy and Shakespearean scope. 

Stylistically, "The Wire" is much more realist than its predecessor — there are no talking fish or imaginary women to speak of, and the dialogue of "The Sopranos" is more cinematic. But that isn't to say that "The Sopranos" is any less realistic in its portrayal of organized crime. As executive producer of the show Terence Winter told Vanity Fair in 2012, the FBI reportedly heard "mob guys talking about 'The Sopranos,' having the same conversation about the show, but always from the flip side. We would hear back that real wiseguys used to think that we had somebody on the inside. They couldn't believe how accurate the show was."

And according to multiple sources, Tony Soprano himself wasn't just plucked out of thin air: the show's protagonist was reportedly based on a gangster named Vincent "Vinny Ocean" Palermo, whose many similarities to the fictional mobster are offset by some startling differences.

How alike are Vincent Palermo and Tony Soprano?

Vincent Palermo was a crime boss for the DeCavalcante family who was based — as Tony Soprano was — in New Jersey. And like Tony, Palermo was well known in mob circles as the owner and operator of Wiggles strip club, which bears a striking resemblance to the Bada Bing! where Tony and his crew meet up and hang in the show (per The Infographics Show).

Like his fictional "Sopranos" counterpart, Palermo's crime family was rocked by members of his crew "turning snitch" and giving up incriminating testimony to avoid lengthy prison sentences. Palermo also mirrored Tony in his willingness to use violence to protect the integrity of his criminal organization and his place in it. He was responsible for several murders, all the while balancing the demands of his otherwise typical New Jersey family.

However, whereas Tony Soprano decided to stay loyal to his crew and managed to avoid becoming a government informant himself, Palermo took a different path. Under pressure from investigators thanks to information the FBI extracted from one of his former soldiers, Palermo turned informant and gave up information on his former crime family in return for a place in the witness protection program. In 2009, the former mobster was revealed to be living in Houston, Texas, where he was again operating strip clubs that were used as a hub for organized crime groups that were subsequently shut down (per According to Houston Press, Palermo filed for bankruptcy in 2013.