“Goodfellas” would have been a totally different movie if Ray Liotta’s character had taken time out to join the Army and get himself straight.
But the real-life mobster Henry Hill — which Liotta played in the film — actually did just that.Despite what Scorsese’s 1990 movie would have you believe, Hill joined the Army in 1960 at age 17, when he was sent to Fort Bragg and became a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne.
According to Nicholas Pileggi’s book “Wiseguy,” (which was later adapted to the movie “Goodfellas”), Hill joined the Army to avoid scrutiny after a Senate investigation was launched to look into union ties to organized crime. In all, about 5,000 names were released by the report — including members of the Lucchese crime family that Hill worked for.
So Hill enlisted to go dark and take a step back from the crime family he served.
Sort of gives a whole new meaning to the term “E-4 Mafia,” right?
The young mobster spent three years as an enlisted soldier. He maintained his criminal contacts and hustled in the military the same way he hustled on the streets of New York. He sold tax-free cigarettes, loan sharked his fellow troops, and sold the extra food he picked up while on KP, according to Pileggi.
Hill spent two months in jail for stealing a sheriff’s car and getting into a bar fight with some Marines. But by the time he was released from the stockade, his enlistment was up. So he returned to what he called “the life,” and ended up getting so far in, he could never get out.
Not without ratting on his friends, that is.In the video above, Hill talks about his time in the Army (fast-forward to 6:55). He spent time at Forts Dix, Benning, Bragg, and Lee. He called his time in the Army “the most fun I ever had.”
From there, he went on to restart his wiseguy career. He specialized in arson, but was also known for intimidation, stealing cars and holding up cargo trucks as they left JFK airport in New York.
After getting busted for narcotics trafficking (which was forbidden by the Lucchese family – it carried a death sentence), Hill eventually turned on the family and became a material witness for the government. He is famous for sharing his story with Associated Press reporter Pileggi.
Director Martin Scorsese made Pileggi’s book into the legendary movie “Goodfellas,” starring Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, and Joe Pesci.
Henry Hill died on June 12, 2012, of heart problems related to smoking. He still had a $1 million bounty on his head.