He Really Wasn’t A Goodfella: Remembering Henry Hill

“Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a gangster!” utters Ray Liotta portraying Henry Hill in the opening moments of the movie Goodfellas. When I was younger, I was enamored with the life of the gangster. As I have gotten older, I have learned and been thankful that I had no part in that kind of a lifestyle.

I first met Henry Hill in 2000. At the time I was still in awe of the Mafia and the gangster lifestyle, so it was quite a thrill to be introduced to Henry. I was hosting my first charity benefit, The Blind Man’s Bluff in Beverly Hills, California. It was a huge bash that was being held on Rodeo Drive. At the event, we held a silent auction, and one of our donors was Henry Hill. He donated three autographed Goodfellas posters that he would personalize. The item fetched a good amount, as every business man wanted the framed personalized poster for their office. It was cool getting to meet Henry and hang out with him for a night. He was smaller than I would have thought, quieter, more reserved, and looked nothing like Ray Liotta. I was very grateful to him for donating the autographed items, and was even more thrilled that he gave me an autographed poster of Goodfellas which read, “To Brian, Don’t Be A wise guy.” Wiseguy is the name of the book that the movie Goodfellas is based on.

A friend of mine was working with Henry on a few projects, and I got to contribute some research to Henry’s book, The Goodfellas Guide to New York. I am even thanked in the opening acknowledgments of the book. That was really cool.

In 2002, I still didn’t really know Henry that well. I was really caught off guard one day when I received a phone call from a friend in L.A., and he told me that Henry was in NYC for a project, but he must have gone out and gotten drunk, and now they couldn’t find him. My friend asked me if I would mind going over near Henry’s hotel and check the bars around the hotel to see if Henry was in one of them. My first reaction was, are you out of your fucking mind? Again, at the time I didn’t know Henry that well, and I was like wait a minute aren’t there people in NYC looking to kill this guy? No way am I getting mixed up in that. They ended up finding Henry a few hours later, and I was told that he was pretty much drunk out of his mind, as he did have a history of some pretty bad substance abuse problems. From what I knew, over the years, he was in and out of rehab. I was told that they hired a couple of off duty NYC police officers to find him. Which they did, they than drove Henry around New York City to sober him up, than stuck him back on a plane to L.A. Knowing what I know now, who knows if any of this was true, but does make for a interesting story.

I believe it was around this time that Henry ended up back in rehab. A few months later, Henry came back to New York. I was out at some friends watching the Yankees game when I received a call that Henry was in New York and would love to get together for drinks. I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea, but a girlfriend of mine and I went anyway. We sat down for drinks, and Henry told us some stories about his escapades. One of the stories he told us, and again who knows if this is true, but when he was in rehab he was in there with Robert Downey, Jr. Henry claimed he had arranged for someone to get drugs in to rehab for him and Robert. I also learned at this meeting never to take a woman to meet Henry again, as his vocabulary was quite colorful, and his stories were primarily of an obscene kind. Still it was a fun night and it was definitely interesting.

A few months later I got a call that Henry was again going to be in New York this time for a book signing party. The party was to be held at a restaurant only a block or two from Sparks Steak House. What? Sparks was where John gotti had Paul Castellano rubbed out. I said to myself, isn’t this a little to high profile of an area to hold a book signing party for someone the Mafia wants dead? This is when I began to realize that Henry wasn’t really a marked man. I began to learn that a lot of Henry’s stories were just that stories. I ended up taking a Vice-President from JetBlue to the book signing party with me. As it was a business related decision and this colleague was obsessed with the Mafia culture. So meeting Henry Hill would be a big thrill for him, and for me could help me get some business. We were at the party awaiting Henry’s arrival. No surprise as Henry was late. The party was pretty crowded and we were standing out back. When Henry arrived, he made a bee line through the party and came right up to me. I have to admit, it did make me feel a little special. We were talking and I asked Henry, “so where you living now?” My colleague said, “are you kidding, he can’t tell you that.” Henry immediately responded with, “Palm Springs.” I don’t know anything about what might have been true about Henry’s time in the witness protection program, or when he left it, but again it did feel special that Henry trusted me.

The last time I saw Henry was at the 20 Year Anniversary of Goodfellas. The screening and party was held at the Museum of the American Gangster, not even sure if that place was around for more than a week. The museum was a little whole in the wall, and no one that was affiliated with the movie Goodfellas was even at the 20 Year Anniversary except for Henry. Henry had been trying over the years to get several Goodfellas related and follow up projects off the ground, none of which seem to be very successful. At least he will always have one of the most classic movies ever made out there about his life. It was after the screening and the party that the night turned in to something special, as a few select guests proceeded to go out to a nice Italian restaurant. At the restaurant Henry sent the chef out of the kitchen and he took over cooking for everyone. He made some of the best pizza I ever tasted. I sat in the kitchen for a little and spoke to him. He seemed content with where his life was. He seemed at peace with where his life was. It was actually a nice night out, and if you didn’t know who this guy was, it would have seemed like you were out with someone’s Grandpa.

I have no idea of how much of the stories that Henry told me are true or not. I even question how much of the movie Goodfellas is actually true. I went from at the time I was originally introduced to Henry as someone who was in awe of him to the time of his death as someone who found his life kind of sad, and fortunate that I did not have to live that kind of a lifestyle. Thinking back about my time with Henry, I would like to think that he is in a better place, but something tells me that is not possible, and that Henry Hill was not a Goodfella.

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2 Responses to “He Really Wasn’t A Goodfella: Remembering Henry Hill”

  1. Barbara Fischler Says:

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