Henry Hill Jr., an American mobster who became an FBI informant, has died at age 69. His story became a part of pop culture with Nicholas Pileggi's 1986 book 'Wiseguy' and later the Martin Scorsese film 'Goodfellas', in which Ray Liotta played Hill.
Henry was born into a working-class family in Brownsville, Brooklyn in 1943. From an early age, he looked up to the mobsters who socialized near his house, and started running errands as a teen for Paul Vario, a "capo" (short for caporegime or capodecina, a high-ranking member of a family) in the Lucchese crime family. At the age of 14, he dropped out of high school to work for the Vario brothers, Paul, Vito and Lenny. The work included vandalism, intimidation, and theft, and Hill got into trouble with the law several times.
After a three-year stint in the army, he returned to New York where he met his future wife, Karen, in 1965. The couple bought a restaurant called 'The Suite' in 1969, and Hill says he intended to run it as a legitimate business, but his old mob friends started showing up, culminating in the 1970 murder of William "Billy Batts" Devino by Jimmy Burke in the restaurant. Hill helped Burke conceal the evidence.
From there, Hill was involved in a string of crimes - he spent six years in prison from 1972 to 1978 for extortion, was involved in the Lufthansa heist, (a theft of $5 million in cash from John F. Kennedy Airport in 1978), and began selling drugs including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and Quaaludes. He was arrested on April 27, 1980 on narcotics-trafficking charges. To avoid being killed by his increasingly violent old mob connections or going to prison on drug charges, he testified against his former associates.
Hill entered the Witness Protection Program with his wife Karen and their two children Gregg and Gina, and moved to several undisclosed locations across the U.S. He and Karen divorced in 1989 after 25 years of marriage, and Hill was kicked out of Witness Protection in the early 1990s for repeatedly blowing his cover. In the years since, he appeared on 'The Howard Stern Show' many times, and sold his artwork on eBay, but also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.
To the end of his life, Hill claimed that he had never killed anyone, despite being ordered to do so.
Back in 2008, George visited Henry Hill at his home and talked to him about his life of crime and his experiences as an informant. Check out that conversation below:
And here's a scene from 'Goodfellas', the 1990 Scorsese film based in part on Hill's life: