A year before his death, mobster-turned-snitch-turned-celebrity Henry Hill almost blew off an appearance on a radio show because of a comment I made about him. The whole incident gives some nice insight into the ego of a glorified street hustler and the powerful influence of fame.
After becoming a celebrity when his book “Wiseguy” was turned into the movie Goodfellas by director Martin Scorsese, Henry Hill was writing cookbooks in between getting drunk and high. He was arrested multiple times for drug abuse and his appearances on the Howard Stern Show were an embarrassment to both the crew and the show’s listeners as Hill was talking nonsense with a slur and bragging about murders he never committed.
When I heard that Henry Hill would be a guest on Crime Beat Radio I was very interested in hearing it. Presenters Ron Chepesiuk and Will Hryb always come well prepared and are experts on organized crime. I had no doubts that they would do a great job at interviewing Hill.
However, I wondered which Hill (right) would show up for the interview. The problem with Hill was that there were two different versions people were looking at. One was the real thing and the other the glamourized version from Goodfellas.
With Goodfellas Martin Scorsese made an instant classic. Actors Robert Deniro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta did an outstanding job at portraying a violent mob crew that terrorized New York during the 1960s till 1980. Ray Liotta shined as the charismatic, handsome Henry Hill who lived the life of a king until he descended into hell. The movie made the real life Henry Hill into a household name around the world. The story about his flashy, exciting life of crime was much sought after in the decades following the film and made sure Hill had some job security.
But the truth was that the movie showed the Hollywood version. The real Henry Hill was a creepy looking bald guy. A former gangster who still thought he could play the part even though no one took him seriously. To top it off Hill had a serious problem with illegal substances. In no way did he live up to the hype created by Goodfellas. And he knew it.
After putting up a promo blog for the upcoming Crime Beat Radio show I became involved in a discussion with a reader about Hill’s appearance. I posted the following reply:
“I think it is worth listening to the interview for a number of reasons. First: no matter what you think of the guy, he was involved with some heavy people who were the subject of a great book and awesome movie classic and he has the inside story on that. Second: he is a great example of a lowlife criminal who could never hide his true colors. He always remained a lowlife only this time without mob backing and without that backing a lowlife is a lowlife that has to stand on his own merit and make something of himself. Henry could not do that. I'm interested in hearing him tell us about that. Even if he thinks he is being honored, he has no clue we are just enjoying the train wreck in front of us. Cause in the end all the glamour of the mob cannot hide the fact that a lot or most of those guys are lowlifes without an inkling of respect. That is my opinion at least.”
Shortly after putting up my reply I got an e-mail from Ron Chepesiuk who said Hill had canceled his appearance due to the comment I had made. “Evidently you hurt Henry's tender feelings,” Chepesiuk wrote. I was surprised and shocked. While Hill was a guest at Howard Stern’s show callers had made far worse comments calling Hill every curse word in the book. Yet, he just sat there smiling. Add to that the fact that Ron Chepesiuk and I run our own separate thing and my comments in no way reflect Chepesiuk’s opinion. Luckily Chepesiuk and Will Hryb managed to calm Hill down and talk him back into doing the show which turned into a great interview.
Despite being a lowlife thug and informant, Hill still had an ego the size of Manhattan. After turning on his mob colleagues, he had to find a new way in life. He wrote a bestseller and became a celebrity after Hollywood worked its tinsel town magic with Goodfellas. Still, after all the stardust fell down and Hill was by himself once again, his ego was facing the same problems. He could not change who he was and what he had done. No matter how much booze and drugs he took, he would never like the guy looking back at him in the mirror. The low-level gangster who ratted on his mob buddies.
Another mob informant described that exact feeling of dread. Former Philadelphia soldier Nicholas “The Crow” Caramandi told crime reporter George Anastasia how he hated his new life as a turncoat in 2003: “It sucks. You’re not a human being no more. You become lifeless, a person without an identity. I’m this guy to these people and that guy to those people. I don’t know who I am. It’s awful. I don’t recommend it to nobody. It ain’t worth it for a couple of reasons. Mostly in your own mind… you feel a stink about yourself all the time. You feel like you’re a rat all the time.”
I guess my comment was a bit harsh. Though I meant every word of it, I have to ask myself whether I would have said it to Hill’s face if I ever would have met him? Probably not. Not because I was afraid of the Henry Hill we know, but simply to avoid having a senior citizen hopped up on alcohol and drugs break his hip after he fell while trying to take a swing at me.
I have to admit that it felt kind of good when I found out I had ‘hurt the feelings’ of the famous Henry Hill. But then I realized I wasn’t thinking of the Henry Hill whose feelings I had actually hurt. Rather I was thinking that I had hurt the feelings of the guy they based the gangster classic Goodfellas on. When I thought of the real life version, I only shook my head in disgust at how little I actually cared. And how much I let a movie get to my ego. I can only imagine how Goodfellas had fucked up Hill’s head. It inflated his ego to a breaking point and caused it to deflate every time he showed up somewhere as himself.
Of course, had it been the 1970s I wouldn’t have said one bad thing to Hill’s face. Mainly because his powerful and violent friends were kind of obsessed about honor and respect. They loved using sticks (preferably a baseball bat) and stones (preferably of lead) to attack those that had dared speak words that hurt their ego or disrespected them in any way. Only one thing left for me to do after telling this anecdote. I’m gonna go home and get my shine box.
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David, I agree with you're opinion of mob guys having had dealings with them while I lived in NYC, they are for the most part self serving liars just like your friend Ron Chepesiuk who I met when he was showing the dvd of Frank Matthews (a friend of mine) Ron looked like a male succubus next to Ike Atkinson who just finished doing 32 years in prison, much like the mob guys Ron will lie steal and cheat to get what he wants so please tell me the difference.
Good job,David !!! Henry Hill was nothing more than a borderline clinical moron who happened to be one of the world's most famous snitches.He was a total embarrassment to himself,first and foremost,as well as to his family and those who were unfortunate enough to have him as a "friend".There is this video on YouTube titled "I Knew Sonny Black"---Henry Hill wherein he is interviewed and proceeds to make more spurious claims in under 3 minutes than a married man with multiple mistresses does during the holidays.They show him a picture of Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano who he claims to "know".Upon finding out that Napolitano is in fact long deceased and was found with his hands chopped off,more "Hillarity" ensues.Henry claims that this was due to Napolitano being a big-time,gangbanging heroin dealer who was double-crossing people by over-diluting his product(maybe he confused Sonny Black with Cesare Bonventre LOL).The conversation then turns to Donnie Brasco and someone erroneously says that Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero became a snitch and Henry agrees---while sort of mumbling that all those guys snitched when they looked at the time they were facing.I wish Lefty were alive to see this !!!! We could have been tremendously entertained,and at the same time,Howard Stern would have accomplished yet another outrageous milestone when Lefty whacked Henry Hill,LIVE !!!! This pathetic putz then wraps up the "interview" by claiming that the only reason that Jimmy Burke & Paul Vario didn't snitch---unlike him----was because "there were no deals on the table" for them.Give me a break !!!! I'm sure the authorities had no interest whatsoever in making deals with a longtime,trusted,top-earning associate and a Capo who could've helped them prosecute Lucchese family administration members.Sure,Henry----you were far more important---a legend in your own mind !!!!
Thanks Delanosgirl! Glad you liked it!
The 2 just don't mix and it would be nice if so-called organized crime experts would keep the two separated.
LOL was that aimed at me, Clinton? Thank you! Truth is that Henry Hill cannot be seen seperately from Goodfellas because his story isn't that interesting by itself. Just another mob associate who hung with a violent crew. His book was a great read but in the end his story and legend were cemented by the movie Goodfellas. There have been plenty of excellent mob books about more interesting characters that went by unnoticed. With just his book Henry Hill would never have been able to make a living doing appearances and cookbooks. Period. At least, according to this so-called organized crime expert.
@ David Amoruso
The title of this blog is hilarious. And how could you be so mean and hurt his feelings like that? ha ha
Great read. Thanks for sharing!
Ha ha you wised up...many people fall for the same sad story from Hill so don't feel bad.
The only good thing that Hill did was pitch a story that happened to create one of our favorite movies "Goodfellas"... so I guess we can say ONE good thing about the man ha ha.
I can't feel sorry for Hill in any way. He never had any regrets or feelings of guilt. He was even happy about things, too happy and too unrepentant. Why he kept getting help from feds is mystery, I think for some strange reason, Ed McDonald felt he had to keep helping him. It could have been to encourage other rats to come forward in future, them seeing how Hill was arrested over and over, yet set free for many years after not only getting immunity, but going into witness protection and the getting kicked out. Maybe Ed McDonald--who seems to be main one who kept helping him, maybe only one, actually had a nostalgic like of Hilll, who made him famous.
Good article.Yes,I felt bad for Henry when he passed 'cause noone had a good word for him,then felt like a heel with my fellow readers' rebukes,but they're right.If you turned rat,but continued to glorify yourself like nothing happened you're living a lie.I could see how being portrayed in Goodfellas would definitely be an ego-boost,but when you look at yourself in the mirror reality would,or should,give you a hard slap in the face.All the real gangsters in that movie,and in real life,died or went to prison.
He indeed got out of a lot of serious legal trouble. Caught with drug stuff on a flight even. I just can't understand why he would have been given all that protection. Did he have something on the Feds? What? At one point enough is enough. That's why Casso is doing life in prison.
Hill had no mob backing after being rat, he had something better, backing of people like prosector Ed McDonald.
The former prosector, who had cameo in Goodfellas, spoke openly of helping Henry Hill out of numerous legal troubles after Hill was kicked out of witness protection, At a Museum seminar in New York city, celebrating 20th anniversary of Goodfella film McDonald took the stage and told how he saved Hill from charges in state of Kentucky. Hill had swindled some people, never had to go through a prosecution or do time for it. Hill also had numerous drug and vagrancy arrests, and who knows what else. He got into trouble all across America after leaving Witness Protection, yet never was sent to prison.