Before he died last week, Henry Hill was still entertaining us as a New York mobster in re-runs of Goodfellas. But it was while he lived in Seattle that his criminal past was first exposed to the American audience. Tucked away in the witness protection program for ratting out fellow mobsters, he was finally cut loose by the FBI after one too many drug busts on the Eastside. But by then, he had outed himself to an author, then local reporters, enroute to becoming famous in a book and a movie. Here's part of how we told his story in Seattle Vice:
Among the best-known local mobsters was Henry Hill, the onetime FBI informant who wound up living in a Seattle suburb. A Lucchese crime family associate whose life was immortalized by Nicholas Pileggi in the best-selling book Wiseguy, then depicted by Ray Liotta in the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas, Hill, wife Karen, and their two kids joined the witness protection program and lived first in Nebraska and Kentucky, then in Redmond.
They occupied a five-acre spread and survived on $1,500 a month in witness money. An alcoholic and druggie, Hill was busted for cocaine trafficking in Seattle in 1987 under the name Martin Todd Lewis. A prosecutor said Hill didn't actually complete the ten-thousand-dollar drug deal, staged to go down with a vice informant in Kirkland, because he was "so screwed up on cocaine." Hill was divorced two years later and was booted out of the protection program for running up a new string of crimes.
Still living on his Redmond ranch, Hill became famous when the book was released. He took back his name and, with a girlfriend who once shared his addictions, moved to California. The book and then movie rights paid him almost $500,000 - much of which was snatched up by the IRS for unpaid taxes.
He turned himself into a commodity, making appearances and starring in documentaries about his life. But he continued to battle the bottle. In December 2009, for example, the 66-year-old ex-mobster was in the St. Louis area for a showing of his artwork at a Larry Flynt strip club and, after getting involved in a drunken disturbance, was taken away in handcuffs. "I don't remember too much," he said, "I drank just one too many. I woke up a few hours later in a jail cell."
Until he was taken seriously ill earlier this year, then died last Tuesday in LA, Hill had still been involved in running the GoodFellaHenry.com website which featured mob merchandise such as mousepads, mugs and aprons emblazoned with Mafia mottoes such as "Never Rat," contrary to his own policy. The site also sported a message board that was not exactly Facebook friendly. "Fuck you rat bastard," begins one of the nicer notes. "I got tracers on your site...your one dead son of a bitch..."
The messages are somewhat dated and people stopped trying to kill Henry decades ago, most of his enemies having outraced him to the cemetery. In the end, Henry killed Henry, drinking and smoking his way to the surgical ward and finally the grave. Still, considering his violent past, living to 69 was a feat not only in longevity but in regret. "He was a good soul towards the end," said his girlfriend, Lisa Caserta. "He started feeling remorseful."