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Former ‘Goodfellas’ gangster Henry Hill dies in LA
Question of the Day
And in 1978, Hill had a key role in the theft of $5.8 million in cash from a Lufthansa Airlines vault, a heist masterminded by Jimmy Burke, the inspiration for De Niro’s character in “Goodfellas.”
“Whenever we needed money, we’d rob the airport,” Liotta says in the movie. “To us, it was better than Citibank.”
He was also selling drugs behind the back of his boss, Vario, and in 1980 was arrested on a narcotics-trafficking charge.
More afraid of his associates than prison, Hill decided he had no choice but to become an informant, and signed an agreement with a Department of Justice task force that would prove more fruitful than anyone imagined.
“The arrest of Henry Hill was a price beyond measure,” Pileggi wrote.” “Hill had grown up in the mob. He was only a mechanic, but he knew everything. He knew how it worked. He knew who oiled the machinery. He knew, literally, where the bodies were buried. If he talked, police knew that Henry Hill could give them the key to dozens of indictments and convictions.”
Hill’s testimony sent dozens of men to prison, many for the Lufthansa heist, and he and his wife Karen, played by Lorraine Bracco in the movie, went into hiding together, spending years fearing retribution by a gun to the back of his head from his old colleagues.
In the early 1990s, after more drug arrests, Hill was booted from the witness protection program.
His fears for his life waned as many former associates died off, and he led a more public life in later years, appearing in documentaries and becoming a popular call-in guest on Howard Stern’s radio show.
His death was first reported by the celebrity website TMZ.
His struggles with substances would continue for most of his life. In 2008 he pleaded guilty in San Bernardino, Calif., to two counts of public intoxication. In 2009, he was arrested in an Illinois suburb of St. Louis on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
“I’ve been on every drug humanly possible, and I can’t get a handle on alcohol,” he told The Associated Press in 2009. “I’ll go two, two and a half years, and I don’t know what triggers me.”
Hill summered in Southern California at an extremely modest one-story house in the Topanga Canyon area of the Santa Monica Mountains, with an expansive backyard view of the San Fernando Valley.
Sitting on the back porch, Caserta, 52, and her son, Nate, 24, described the contemporary Hill as a man who maintained a mobster’s air of self-assurance and confidence but regretted his gangster past.
An avid painter who contributed his artwork to auctions, he gave money to causes ranging from local police cadets to the homeless, and every Thanksgiving for five years he would dish out food to the poor, said Caserta and her son.
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