While Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was a hit with critics (it is nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars), it has received some criticism from people who claim to know that the story is pure fiction, despite being based on a true crime book written by a former homicide detective and prosecutor. There was that snide article in Slate titled “The lies of the Irishman,” in which the author quoted several former gangsters as saying that Frank Sheeran (played by De Niro in the film) could not have killed union boss Jimmy Hoffa (played by Pacino), or anyone else for that matter.
Now another former gangster has thrown his hat in the ring. Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano entered the public eye in the early ‘90s when he decided to turn state’s evidence and testify against his old colleague and friend John Gotti, boss of the Gambino crime family. Gravano committed more than a dozen murders, but his testimony allowed him to avoid prison. He has been living incognito ever since.
Gravano gave an interview to Vulture recently, in which he shared his thoughts on The Irishman. He got right down to brass tacks.
“The Irishman did not do the shooting,” he said. “He’s not the guy who killed Jimmy Hoffa. From what I understood it was given to Tony Provenzano, who was a very powerful captain of the Genovese family, and his man, his guy Sally-something-or-other, whatever the fuck his name was — I can’t think of it.”
The interviewer suggested “Sally Bugs” Briguglio, and Gravano said that was the guy.
“Yes, Sally Bugs. From what I understood, he was the guy who actually killed Hoffa. So the story was wrong. It was all done wrong!”
He went on to assert that Sheeran also lied about killing Joe “Crazy Joe” Gallo. The film shows De Niro performing that hit.
“They got the Irishman killing Gallo, which is insane,” Gravano said. “He had no part in that whatsoever.”
It should be noted that the man Gravano says killed Hoffa—“Sally Bugs” Briguglio, played by Louis Cancelmi—is part of the hit in the film. He’s there with De Niro’s character when they pick Hoffa up and drive him to the house in which he’s shot. That would suggest that, at the very least, The Irishman is somewhat accurate on that point. Moreover, Gravano does not claim to have first-hand knowledge of the Hoffa hit—he’s simply repeating what someone else told him. So who knows.
On the other hand, Gravan approved of Goodfellas:
“I was a fan of Goodfellas, and I knew some of the people that were involved in that whole thing. And that was fairly accurate. You know when they went through the basement to get into the Copacabana? That’s the way I used to get in. Me and my friends, we’d go right down there — boom, right in, sitting at somebody’s table. That’s the way we lived. It had a lot of truth, though I’m sure there was some Hollywood involved.”