Henry Hill, the infamous gangster played by Ray Liotta in the movie Goodfellas, died this summer. In his final years, Henry became a sad character, unable to stay away from booze and a life of petty crimes that landed him in jail several times. But during the brief time I knew him in 2001, Henry was happy, living his life out in the open after voluntarily leaving the Witness Protection Program.
Henry’s agent introduced my business partner and me to Henry because a gaming company was interested in developing a multiplayer web game around his infamous life as a New York gangster, and they needed a team to develop the concept. At the time, Henry was riding high on the fame of his successful autobiography and movie, and he was working on a cookbook.
Our first meeting was in my office — we were too nervous to meet Henry in public. I was expecting an intimidating, tough character. Instead, in walked a genteel retiree in a golf shirt, laughing and talking about how to make perfect pasta. The only hint to his past was the thick gold chain around his neck. It was impossible to fathom that this man sitting in front of us had beaten people, buried bodies, and (although never proven) maybe killed people.
For our next meeting, we met at Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset across the street from our office. We figured it would be safe packed with the showbiz lunch crowd. Henry told us outrageous stories about his former life. He was a charismatic storyteller. I was completely mesmerized by Henry.
My last conversation with Henry was when he called asking to fly me down to his Florida home so he could make me some homemade pasta. Research for his cookbook, he said. He laid on the persuasive charm thick, and for the first time I heard Henry — the goodfella mobster — speaking to me. It completely unnerved me. And, as delicately as I could, I kindly declined his offer.
Include the book Goodfellas, by Nichaolas Pileggi, on your reading list, and Netflix the film. If you want to read Henry’s book, it’s Gangsters and Goodfellas: The Mob, Witness Protection, and Life on the Run.
Tags: Goodfellas, Goodfellas the book, Goodfellas the movie, Henry Hill, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, The Mob