THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

  • Stay tuned for THIEF! book signings, media interviews and other THIEF! events
  • Media Reviews posted periodically
  • Mobwriter comments on true crime events and books

THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Henry Hill - Mob Rat

The following piece appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal today:

Mob rat graced with clear conscience, instinct for self-preservation

Henry Hill sounded like a man ready to make a confession.
He was tired and about to leave his San Fernando Valley home for the hospital, where he was due to have hernia surgery. I decided not to ask him if the injury came from lugging around a heavy conscience.

Although Ray Liotta played Hill's character in the 1989 gangster movie "Goodfellas," on the day we spoke he wasn't feeling much like a mob star.
Hill had been sober 50 days, was still getting nicked in the press for a bench warrant stemming from two 2008 public intoxication arrests, and I got the feeling the retired mob guy counted every minute.

He's 65, but his liver is celebrating its bicentennial. Years of drugs and alcohol and late nights have taken a toll.

But he's a survivor.

That self-preservation instinct is strong in guys who are willing to betray their treacherous friends.

Criminals who choose freedom over life in the penitentiary or death in an alley are survivors first and foremost.

Some people might be surprised to learn he has a conscience at all, but he said he's thankful every day for never killing anyone.

"That's what saved me from going overboard," he said. "I dug a few holes, and was a witness to a lot of murder, but was never put in that position. I was an earner. I earned a lot of money for the boys, and they had enough guys around who were homicidal maniacs. I'm grateful I don't have that on my conscience."

Not that his conscience isn't full enough.

During our conversation, it became clear that developing the ability to survive the dark pitfalls of his life seemed like the thing Hill was most proud of.

The street life didn't kill him, and neither did the mob.

Neither heroin nor liquor kept him down.

He plans to live some more and die sober and free.

"I had a difficult time struggling with drugs and alcohol for a lot of years," Hill said. "It caused me to break certain laws. As far as that (mob) life, I left in 1980. I feel I completely left it and put it way behind me.

"I testified at my trial and 11 other trials and was involved in debriefings, and stuff took a toll on me. I didn't get much therapy. The only therapy I got was from drugs and alcohol. Today I'm clean and sober.

"I'd always had those demons. I lived that subculture, the organized crime life, where whatever you did you thought was correct. I never in a million years thought I'd become a rat, an informant, but with my life on the line I had to make a choice for myself and my family ... or face death. I thank God the government was there. It took a long time for me to be able to forgive myself for what I did."

What he did was turn the Lucchese crime family upside down when he cooperated with the FBI.

His effort against men that had been his closest friends led to a string of convictions, a reputation as a king-sized underworld rat, and a movie directed by Martin Scorsese.

Hill didn't change his criminal ways immediately. There was a major drug arrest, and he later left the witness protection program.

Today, he speaks to groups of troubled youth.

He is a paid movie consultant, has collaborated on several books, and appears regularly in organized crime documentaries. (He'll appear with local author Dennis Griffin at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Barnes & Noble in Henderson.)

Hill even sells his art on eBay. I'm no art critic, but he's no Picasso. I did like his New York skylines and the painting of the rat with the .38, but decided not to ask if the latter was a self-portrait. The pieces sell for around $30.

That was a busboy's tip in his hoodlum heyday.

"If I knew I would have lived this long, I would have saved 2 percent of the money that went through my hands," Hill said, laughing a little. "Or even 1 percent."

Back then he made a score.

Today, he earns a living as Henry Hill, former mobster.

This survivor makes his way in the world one day at a time and takes his salvation where he finds it.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at

Henry Hill will appear at Barnes & Noble along with Slick Hanner and Frank Cullotta, "The Three Mobsters," to answer questions and autograph their books.

Date:Saturday, April 25, 2009
Time: 1:00 p.m. (Pacific Time)
Place: Barnes & Noble
567 North Stephanie
Henderson, NV 89014


Anonymous said...

Henry Hill Goodfella will be at FIRE IT UP 2263 N GREEN VALLEY PKWY HENDERSON NV 702-454-9191 ON SAT JUNE 20th 2009 FOR A GANGSTERS AND GOODFELLAS NIGHT you can purchase "Goodfellas and Gangsters" the book and original artwork come meet a notorious mob icon also appearing is Denny Griffen crime writers from "CULLETTA"AND A FEW MORE SPECIAL GUEST

Anonymous said...

Henry Hills own brother and sister said he was a snitch and a liar from childhood. He "claims" he never killed anyone. I don't believe much he does say. He was caught changing versions of events way too many times. He WAS a con man and obviously good at THAT. People think of Ray Liotta and a movie role(a few facts and alot of BS) when they think of Henry Hill.