Photo Credit: AP, 1997
Henry Hill, the confessed gangster whose life in the mob -- including ties to a Long Island nightclub -- inspired the hit movie "Goodfellas," died Tuesday in Los Angeles.
He was 69.
Hill's longtime girlfriend, Lisa Caserta, told The Associated Press that he died of complications from heart problems related to smoking, adding that Hill had open-heart surgery last year.
The Luchese crime family associate became a part of Long Island lore when Island Park nightclub owner Paul Basile was convicted in 1984 of conspiring with the mob to give Hill a no-show job.
When he was supposed to be working at the club, Hill helped plot a $5.8-million robbery of a Lufthansa Airlines vault at Kennedy Airport in 1978 -- an unprecedented heist portrayed 12 years later in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas."
The movie was based on journalist Nicholas Pileggi's 1986 account of Hill's life, titled "Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family."
In the book, Hill told detailed, disturbing and often hilarious tales of life in the mob. He sought out Pileggi to tell his story after he became an FBI informant.
"Henry Hill was a hood," Pileggi wrote. "He was a hustler. . . . He was a full-time working racketeer, an articulate hoodlum from organized crime."
Born in Brooklyn to an Irish father and Italian mother, Hill's life with the mob began at age 11 when he wandered into a cab stand across the street from his home, looking for work. In the late 1950s, he began running errands for the men at the stand, which led to small-time crimes.
He was arrested at 16 for using a stolen credit card in an attempt to buy tires for the brother of gangster Paul Vario, and impressed gang leaders by refusing to squeal on them.
Far bigger crimes awaited, including the 1967 theft of $420,000 in cash from an Air France cargo terminal at Kennedy Airport.
He was also selling drugs behind Vario's back, and in 1980 was arrested on a narcotics-trafficking charge. More afraid of his associates than prison, Hill became an informant.
His testimony sent dozens of men to prison. He and his wife, Karen, went into hiding, but his fears waned as most of his former associates died off. In later years, he led a more public life, appearing in documentaries.
"He was a good soul towards the end," said Caserta, his girlfriend. "He started feeling remorseful."