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Television & Radio

A real wiseguy

Henry Hill, whose Mafia past was the basis for 'GoodFellas,' no longer hides from the mob.

June 04, 2004|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

Given the mob's legendary vengeance against traitors, it may be surprising to some that Hill isn't dead already, particularly after leaving the witness protection program years ago. He was in the program for about 10 years and there were several close calls in his early years of hiding from the mob, according to Hill, who now spends most of his time in Los Angeles.

After nine months of living in the Midwest, he and his family were ordered by federal agents to pack and leave Omaha almost overnight. There had been what would be one of many security breaches and their lives were in danger. The mob had learned Hill was in the Midwest. His first wife and their two children ended up in Kentucky, where new identities and stories had to be manufactured once again.

"I praise the witness protection program," said Hill, who was assigned the names Peter Haines and Martin Todd Lewis at different times. "They kept me safe when I didn't know how to keep myself safe. They kept me alive."

But over the years his mob adversaries have been felled either by life sentences in prison or by death -- both from natural and unnatural causes. Still, he has security concerns. He said he noticed a couple of cars following him on his way to the restaurant for the interview.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 05, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Henry Hill -- An article in Friday's Calendar section indicated that Henry Hill was a co-author with Nicholas Pileggi of "Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family." The book was based on Hill's life, but Pileggi was the sole author.

"I'm worried about some stalker or some punk kid trying to make a rep for himself or something," he said. "The mob? They don't care about me anymore. Are you kidding? They send me their scripts and treatments to sell in Hollywood."

Ever since "GoodFellas," which paid him $480,000, Hill has made an on-and-off living in the entertainment industry, even establishing his own production company.

The glamour of his mob days has often made him a sought-after consultant for movies and television shows. In the new book, Hill says he ran up huge phone bills fielding calls from the set of "GoodFellas." One call came as Hill's third child was being born when Robert De Niro needed advice on how to pistol-whip a guy.

After a life in organized crime, Hill wasn't prepared for the sharks of Hollywood. "What I say is, 'I survived the mob. I survived the government. I'll never survive this lunatic town,' " Hill writes, blasting Hollywood's infamous creative accounting techniques. "A little piece of advice for you writers out there: If you're going to go to a studio, fuhgeddaboutit, don't go for the back-end [points]. Take the money up front or fuhgeddaboutit. That's Hollywood."

Hill loves "The Sopranos," though he decries inaccuracies in the show every now and then. Like last season, when Mafia members and loved ones staged an intervention for Tony Soprano's nephew Christopher, who'd become addicted to heroin.

"You know what a mob intervention is?" he said. "They take you away in shackles and handcuffs and put you in some tenement basement in Brooklyn until you kick it. Then they say, 'You want some drugs? You want to be a wiseguy or a doper?' Usually though, they'll just whack you."

Like everyone else, Hill has his own speculation about how the show's sixth and final season, slated for production in early 2005, will conclude. He thinks that after Tony Soprano's wife, Carmela, learns Chris' fiancee has been murdered, she will persuade Tony to work for the government. Then, the couple and their children will disappear in the witness protection program.

"Tony is in a hell of a mess," Hill said. "He's fighting the New York mob, he's fighting his own crew, and he may have no other choice than to flip. You know, Tony is still a human being despite all the bull. Not like that Chris. I thought he was a human being too, but after sanctioning his old lady [fiancee Adriana] being whacked -- he's a sociopath."

He finishes his second drink.

"You know, I wish I could take a pill, call a doctor, sit with ['Sopranos' therapist] Dr. Melfi or something for all these thoughts in my head," he said. "But it doesn't work that way."

He pauses again. "I just want to be a grain of sand better today than yesterday. That's it, just one grain of sand better."

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