Born on June 11, 1941 in Brooklyn, New York, Henry Hill grew up in an area of Brooklyn that was dominated by the Lucchese crime family. Fascinated by gangsters, he began dreaming of being in the Mafia at age 12.
The son of an Irish father and Sicilian mother, Hill could never be a "made" Mafia member because he wasn't a full-blooded Italian, but his charm and cunning made him welcome inside the Lucchese crime family. Hill soon became a close associate and friend of Paul Vario, one of the more respected capos in the family. In his teenage years, Hill would do errands for Vario and his crew, and eventually moved to more serious crime. His time in the Mafia would span three decades, beginning in 1955.
Hill lived up to the gangster image by having a number of affairs and staying out until all hours, drinking, partying and playing cards. After beating up a non-paying gambler whose sister happened to work at the F.B.I., Hill was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Once inside, he soon realized that Mafia members received preferential treatment by convicts and guards, who were paid off by crime families.
After his release, Hill used his prison narcotics contacts to shift large amounts of cocaine from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh. As his operation grew, so did Hill's own addiction to the drug. It was only when Hill realized he was next on the hit list that he became a federal witness. His testimony brought down some of New York's most feared mobsters, including Paul Vario.
Hill, his wife and their two children entered the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program in 1980. Two years later—after moving his family to Nebraska, and then Kentucky—Hill was thrown out of the program for blowing his cover.