His life story was told in one of Martin Scorsese’s best films, the Mafia hit Goodfellas. Henry Hill lived the life of the central character in the film. Then in real life he did the unthinkable, told the police nearly everything he knew.
It should have been a death sentence when Henry Hill turned police informer. He was in one of the big New York Mafia families, the Luccheses mob. Not a top man but near enough to know the inside story.
Hill turned informer to save his life. Police arrested him and started questioning about the Mob but he said nothing. Then when he was on bail one of his associates tried to arrange a meeting. Hill knew this would be a meeting with only one ending so he went back to the police and started talking. Two top men from the family were put on trial and given long sentences thanks to his evidence. Another 50 were arrested. It was a big event and Hill and his wife were given witness protection.
There are some classic lines in Goodfellas which has a documentary style, taking Hill through his life in the Mob from the age of sixteen. In the film Hill gets married but of course one wife is not enough and he has a girlfriend in an apartment. Two of his bosses visit and tell him he has to go home. His wife is getting agitated and they are worried about what she will do. So Hill has to go back because “She’ll never divorce you. She’ll kill you but she won’t divorce you.”
As Hill describes his life in the Mob he lays out what a good life it is. “Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Free cars, keys to a dozen hideout apartments all over the city.”
Hill tells how the good life for the Goodfellas, that was how they described themselves, was financed. “Whenever we needed money we’d rob the airport. For us it was better than Citibank.”
Hill’s Mob boss was the big, impressive Paulie – in real life and in the film. Hill says, “Paulie may have moved slow but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.”
Hill and his wife moved around in various cities under witness protection but this straight life was not for him. He was a gangster by instinct and eventually he was expelled from the protection programme for going back to crime. Amazingly he continued to survive and when the film was released he became a minor celebrity.
Hill made appearances on reality TV and in documentaries but all the while he knew his life was in danger. He had been addicted to drugs for a long time and spent time in rehab. Then he tried to make it as a chef, preparing Mafia dishes and he opened a restaurant, Wiseguys. Continuing the celebrity life he was inducted into the Museum of the American Gangster in New York and the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.
When things are falling apart for Henry in the film he still tries to keep his family life going, asking his brother to cook some Mafia food as a police helicopter circles over the house. He remarks of his brother, “All day this poor guy has been watching the tomato sauce and a police helicopter.”
It was a different life. Surprisingly Henry Hill made it to 69 and died at home in bed. RIP Henry.