Martin Scorsese's The Irishman (which debuted on Netflix last week) is full of real-life figures, including Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Sheeran, but it's the true members of the mob that really take precedence in the film. Title cards showing how the movie's various characters came to their untimely ends frequently pop up throughout The Irishman's three-and-a-half-hour run time, but one mob boss that doesn't get one is Russell Bufalino.
Robert De Niro's Sheeran explains that Bufalino went from "the church to the hospital to the grave" at the end of his life, but fans are wondering if his portrayal by Joe Pesci in The Irishman is accurate. Here's what we know about the true life story of Russell Bufalino.
Who was Russell Bufalino?
Bufalino was born in Sicily in 1903, and he immigrated with his family to the United States in 1906. He grew up in Buffalo, New York, and he reportedly turned to street crimes and petty theft when he was a teenager. In the early 1920s, Bufalino met mobster Joseph Barbara, and the two started working together.
In 1940, Barbara became the boss of crime families in Buffalo and Pittston, Pennsylania, and he named Bufalino as underboss. Bufalino then moved to Kingston, Pennsylvania, where he supervised operations.
Bufalino reportedly met Frank Sheeran around 1955, and the Irishman initially drove Bufalino around and made deliveries before he turned into a hitman for the mob. Bufalino was also the one to introduce Sheeran to Jimmy Hoffa.
In 1957, Bufalino helped organize an American mafia summit of over 100 Mafiosi from the United States, Italy, and Cuba in New York, called the Apalachin meeting. The meeting ended up being raided by New York state troopers and federal agents, and about 60 mob members were apprehended. Of that number, about 20 were indicted for perjury, including Bufalino. However, all of the convictions were later overturned after no illegal activity could be proved.
Bufalino became the boss of the Bufalino family in 1959, after Barbara died, and his power and influence grew even more. It's suspected Bufalino worked with the CIA on a plot to assassinate former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and he may have been the one to order the hit on Hoffa.
What happened to Russell Bufalino?
Things started to change in 1977. Bufalino was found guilty of extortion after a man named Jack Napoli accused Bufalino of threatening to kill him after he didn't pay his $25,000 debt to a jeweler. Bufalino was sentenced to four years in prison in 1978, and he served three years before being released in May 1981.
After his release, Bufalino was indicted for conspiring to kill Napoli, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison just months later, in November of 1981.
And while The Irishman makes it seem like Bufalino died in prison, he was actually released in 1989—although he did suffer a stroke in prison like the movie shows. Bufalino died of natural causes in 1994, and he's buried in Denison Cemetery in Swoyersville, Pennsylvania.
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