Photo by Getty Images/Everett Collection
Henry Hill, whose mob exploits and his subsequent entry into the Witness Protection Program was immortalized in Martin Scorsese's epic masterpiece "Goodfellas," has died in Malibu, California. The cause of death has not been released.
The news was confirmed by a statement on his website, www.goodfellahenry.com. "Henry passed away in an L.A. hospital Tuesday. He leaves friends and family behind who enjoyed (?) his roller coaster vigor and enthusiasm for life and laughs. He will be missed."
Ray Liotta played the role of Hill in the movie, which earned six Academy Award nominations and wound up on numerous lists, including Yahoo! Movies' "100 Movies to See Before You Die," for being one of the best movies ever made.
1980 mugshot of Henry HillThe basis of the film was the nonfiction book "Wiseguy" by journalist Nicholas Pileggi, which highlighted Hill's escapades with the Lucchese crime family under capo Paul "Paulie" Vario. He was involved in a $420,000 theft from Air France at Idlewild Airport, did a stint in prison for extortion, and pulled off the breathtakingly audacious 1978 Lufthansa heist -- the biggest robbery in American history -- netting $5 million in cash and $875,000 in jewels.
Drugs and paranoia, however, proved to be Hill's downfall. He was arrested for trafficking in 1980 and eventually turned police informant when he became convinced that his former mob associates were going to kill him. Hill's testimony eventually resulted in many of the wiseguys, including Vario, receiving long prison sentences.
He and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Karen, entered the Witness Protection Program, but anonymity didn't really suit a personality as outsized as his. When the movie came out, Hill became a minor celebrity, and he seemingly couldn't resist appearing in the media. That, plus getting arrested for another drug-related charge in 1987, got him thrown out of the program in the early '90s.
Yet, instead of swimming with the fishes as many mob snitches had in the past, Hill became a regular guest on "The Howard Stern Show." He appeared in multiple documentaries about the Mafia. He sold paintings on eBay. He opened a restaurant called Wiseguys in New Haven, Connecticut, where he sold his own line of tomato sauce. And he was even inducted into the Museum of the American Gangster in New York City.
He also struggled with addiction, entering rehab twice. The second time, in 2007, he did so at the behest of Ray Liotta, following a photo shoot for Entertainment Weekly.
Hill is survived by his partner and manager, Lisa Caserta, who told CBS News earlier today that he "went out pretty peacefully, for a goodfella."