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Henry Hill, the subject of Nicholas Pileggi's Wise Guy and inspiration behind Martin Scorsese's iconic film Goodfellas, died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 69. The cause was attributed to complications from a heart attack he suffered recently.
He began his life of crime in 1955, running errands for Paul Vario before being promoted to selling stolen cigarettes. Through Vario he met Jimmy Burke and Tommy DeSimone; the trio carried out a heist of the Air France cargo terminal at JFK Airport, making out with $420,000. Eventually, Hill found himself staring down a long prison sentence (or the barrel of Burke's pistol) after being charged with trafficking narcotics. Rather than go to prison or be whacked, Hill and his family entered the Witness Protection Program where they remained until they were expelled in the 1990s due to his criminal activity.
Hill was portrayed by Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, a role that arguably vitalized the actor's career. Co-starring the likes of Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, the Scorsese masterpiece was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director (Pesci wound up pulling down the only Oscar for Best Supporting Role). Arguably one of the greatest organized crime films of all time, as well as one of the best films ever made, Goodfellas' legacy lives on long after the credits finish rolling.
It seems as though Hill did indeed become an average nobody, living the rest of his life as a schnook.
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