Henry Hill, mobster-turned federal witness, dies "pretty peacefully, for a goodfella"

6:45 AM, Jun 13, 2012   |    comments
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(CBS News) Henry Hill, a long-time New York City mobster-turned FBI informant and witness, has died at the age of 69 at a hospital in Los Angeles.

Hill's partner and manager Lisa Caserta tells CBS News Hillm, "went out pretty peacefully, for a goodfella". She says he was with family members when he passed away on Tuesday. No specific cause was given, but Caserta tells CBS News that years of heavy smoking combined with complications from a recent heart attack led to his death.

Hill became infamous in 1990, when the movie "Goodfellas" dramatized his life, with Ray Liota playing the "wise guy".

But as "CBS This Morning co-host Charlie Rose" discovered in a 2004 interview for "60 Minutes" (video), the real Henry Hill wasn't born into the mob. He was half-Italian and half-Irish, and he had to earn his way in. At a young age, he became obsessed with the idea of wise guys and gangsters.

"In my neighborhood, where I came from in Brooklyn, these were the guys with the silk suits and the diamond rings and the beautiful women," Hill told Rose.

Hill did everything he could to make it into organized crime. For 20 years, he lived the mob life, until May 1980, when it all came to a crashing halt with his arrest on drug charges.

Facing serious jail time, Hill accepted a government offer of protection and no criminal charges if he testified against fellow mobsters.

"I was in trouble. I knew I was a dead man, no matter how you cut it. If I stayed in prison, I was dead," says Hill. "Went out in the street, I was dead. So, I mean, my choice was already made."

He said his only choice was to enter the federal Witness Protection Program. Created in 1967, the program provides a new identity, security and relocation in exchange for testimony.

Hill's two children, Gregg and Gina, were 13 and 11 when their father made his deal with the government. Speaking to "60 Minutes" in 2009, they insisted on being disguised and said only their spouses knew who their father was, and what he used to do.

In 2009, Hill was arrested after an altercation at a bar in Illinois, after having what he said was "one too many" drinks. He was freed on bond.

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