We are sad to have learned today that Henry Hill, the inspiration for Ray Liotta’s character in Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas, and star of the Locked Up Abroad episode “The Real Goodfella,” has passed away, according to various news reports.
In remembrance of Henry Hill, we are re-airing his episode of Locked Up Abroad: The Real Goodfella tonight at 9P et/pt. The episode, which originally premiered last season, features intimate interview footage of Hill (shot in 2011) as well as dramatic reenactments, and tells the true story of his rise and fall as a drug-dealing wiseguy in the New York mob. After becoming a gangster in his teens, Henry had it all: money, cars, women, and respect. But when he was busted dealing dope against the orders of his boss, he turned from an invincible wiseguy into a mafia snitch with a price on his head. Going even further than the Scorcese film, he reveals how another drug bust while in the Witness Protection Program almost cost him his life. As Henry says himself: “20 years ago Martin Scorsese made a movie about my life… but there’s a lot of stuff he left out.”
**The following interview was adapted from public statements from Henry Hill**
Besides drugs and weapons dealing, what other crimes did you commit while you were in the American mafia?
I did a lot of bad things back then. I shot at people, I busted a lot of heads, and I buried a lot of bodies…You can try to justify it by saying they deserved it, that they had it coming, but some just got whacked for absolutely no reason at all. The whole crew were homicidal maniacs… Just about every guy was a cold blooded murderer. It was tough for me. I showed up with them when I had to, but I was walking between rain drops. Every day I was scared. I never killed nobody – at least not on purpose. I shot at people but we didn’t stick around to find out what happened.
You made a lot of money back in those days. What did you spend it on?
We partied five, six nights a week and I was making $15,000 to $40,000 a week. That was just my end. But I was a degenerate gambler. I could lose $40,000 in a week…. The government said a couple of hundred million dollars went through my hands. But I just blew it on slow horses, women, drugs and rock n’ roll.
After you got busted by the feds, they played you a recording of Jimmy and Paulie putting out the hit on your life. What went through your head?
Paulie was like a father to me. And when I heard that, that broke the camel’s back… I never would’ve thought in a million years Paulie would order my death … and they would’ve killed my family.
So that’s when you made the decision to turn rat?
I knew I was going to get whacked, and it came pretty close. So it was either me or them. I knew it, and they knew it. Initially, I had a lot of remorse, and it took me a long time to forgive myself for what I did, for being a rat. But I knew I saved a lot of lives by putting a lot of horrible people away. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.
Looking back, do you think you made the right choice?
Absolutely. I know I did… I’ve had so many young guys tell me that knowing me and hearing me speak and watching the movie [Goodfellas] changed their life. And I tell them if this knucklehead can do it, so can they.
It’s been over twenty years since the release of the blockbuster film Goodfellas. Do you ever fear for your life?
There’s nobody from my era alive today. But there’s always that chance that some young buck wants to make a name for themselves… It’s surreal, totally surreal, to be here. I never thought I’d reach this wonderful age. I’m just grateful for being alive.
What are you up to these days?
I do a lot of charity work. I like to work with knuckleheads, I swear to God — kids who don’t have their head on straight. If I could change one, that guy may find a cure for cancer… And I do quite a bit of work for law enforcement. I go to Quantico and give lectures. They transfer agents to organized-crime units, and I gotta meet with them. Thirty years ago, they were f***ing shooting at me. Now they f***ing clap.
People can purchase your original watercolors on eBay. How did you learn how to paint?
Some treatment center I was in Oregon — that was part of our curriculum. I can’t paint two stick figures. But I do watercolors. I enjoy it. To me, it’s therapy. I just do it because I’m still on East Coast time. I live in California and wake up at three or four in the morning. So I knock out a few paintings. Cooking and painting is my therapy.
What would you say to wannabe gangsters?
Forget about it. Stay in school.
Locked Up Abroad: “The Real Goodfella” will re-air tonight at 9P et/pt on the National Geographic Channel.
Extended Interview: “Henry Hill Speaks”
An exclusive interview with Henry Hill on the set of Locked Up Abroad: