Copyright (c) 2002 Eve Berliner. All Rights Reserved. [Terms and Conditions]

 

Farewell to Gotti

 

 

 By Eve Berliner

 

John Gotti: Man of power, charisma and danger.

 

 

 

By Eve Berliner

 

He was the quintessential gangster, a figure of dark and tantalizing glamour, guttural, vain, iron-willed and remorseless.

We see him in his old haunts in front of the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street, Little Italy, where he reigned -- the silver hair swept back with movie star bravado, impeccable in his muted double-breasted Armani suit, creamy white shirt, Italian silk tie, the sly trickster smile upon his face.

"Naughty, naughty," he would intone with defiance to nearby stakeout agents who scrutinized his every move.

Surrounded by bodyguards, as he stepped deftly into his Mercedes and proceeded to one of New York's most elegant restaurants where doors would fly open and head waiters would bow and lead him to a tasteful spot where he could watch the door, back to the wall.

* * *

He was not immune from fate. Serious illness would strike in 1998. In the advanced stages of disease, the indomitable figure of disdain and daring grew ravaged, confined to a wheelchair.

Chemotherapy was halted after a failed third round of killer drugs could not decimate the cancer that had gotten him by the throat like one of his old jugular enemies, an unrelenting cancer of the throat in a fight to the death.

Doctors at the United States Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, gave him two months to live.

Incarcerated since June of 1992, in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, John Joseph Gotti was locked in the cell of mind and memory.

* * *

He would be haunted forever by the death of his son, Frankie, 21 long years ago, Frankie's photograph always beside him in the dark inner sanctum of the Bergin Hunt & Fishing Club in Ozone Park, Queens, where he clawed his way to power.

For John Gotti, there was a special dream for Frankie that he never had for himself, that he would take to his grave.

The notice appeared, as always, on the 18th day of March:

 

March 18, 2001. Sunday, New York Daily News

Gotti, Frank

Dear Frank:

You are sadly missed, deeply loved and never forgotten for even one moment.

Missing you always.

Mom and Dad

 

The bicycle darting out of nowhere in front of the oncoming vehicle. The radiant, smiling little boy stolen off the earth at age 12.

"Look at that, Four fucking A's!" his father had exclaimed with pride to associates several days earlier as he examined his young son's report card.

March 18, 1980:

Taking a shortcut, Frank's borrowed motorized minibike darted into the street from behind a double-parked dumpster as John Favara, aged 51, a neighbor of the Gotti's on his way home from his job as a manager at a furniture company, slammed into him with his car. He never saw the boy until the moment of impact.

The death was ruled accidental. No charges were brought against Favara. But a series of death threats ensued, anonymous and menacing. Favara, his wife and two adopted children, made the decision to leave the neighborhood.

It was a hot July day, four months after Frank's death, Gotti and his wife Victoria vacationing in Florida, as Favara walked to his car in a parking lot. Witnesses told police that a man clubbed him over the head, shoved him into a van and drove off.

He has never been seen again.

Gotti avowed no knowledge of the disappearance.

* * *

His mother Fannie is still alive.

His paternal grandparents, who sailed steerage class from Italy to America, emigrated from San Guiseppe Vesuviano, a volcanic village near Naples populated in the sixth century by Teutonic marauders known as The Goti.

John Joseph Gotti,Jr., the fifth of 13 children, was born in the Bronx on October 27, 1940, the third of seven brothers.

His father, for whom he was named, worked erratically on and off as a day laborer in construction, for a menial wage, and was a compulsive gambler. The deprivation was severe.

"He never did nothin'. He never earned nothin'. And we never had nothin," Gotti was to have stated.

Therein the roots of his anger.

The boy developed a hair-trigger, fierce, and uncontrollable rage. He would slug it out in bloody fist fights with fearless ferocity. "Bully. A discipline problem.", his school record at Franklin K. Lane High School notes prophetically. He dropped out at age 16.

He grew up in the South Bronx, at age 10 moved to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, the family dispossessed one year later to the working class neighborhood known as East New York. Johnny attended P.S. 178 from which he was suspended for fracturing a fellow student's skull in a fight.

 

He was a fearsome intimidator.

It was in Italian Harlem that he had gotten his first glimpse of the Mafioso life.

But East New York, Brooklyn, was the terrain of the notorious Murder Incorporated king-pin, Albert Anastasia, the streets teeming with numbers runners, hijacked goods, saloons, corrupt cops, money, power and "respect."

Johnny Boy joined the street action, running errands for the burly, slick- suited tough guys, brandishing a new tattoo of a serpent on his right shoulder, barely attending school, and by the time he dropped out for good, becoming a full-fledged member of a teenage street gang and Cosa Nostra training ground called the Fulton-Rockaway Boys. The boys filled their happy days with car thefts, stolen merchandise, ripping off stores, mugging drunks and having repeated skirmishes with the police.

Before long, the pompadoured, flashily dressed, audacious young teenager had become a leader of the gang, running bets for neighborhood bookies and collecting with vicious fists for the local loan sharks.

He was on his way. The path was chosen.

* * *

He lived by a primitive code: an eye for an eye -- and the Mafia credo of "honor, respect and obedience." Or else!

His guiding philosophy of power was epitomized by the 16th century politician and philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli author of "The Prince," whom Gotti, like Albert Anastasia before him, revered -- the ends justify the means.

Perhaps in the final days, he looked back on his life with some tinge of sadness, remorse, some degree of self-honesty, remembering those blissful days sailing in the blazing sun on his cigarette boat in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, driving fast cars with wild abandon, devouring sumptuous food and drink, in the throes of absolute power.

The darker hours would not intrude, the blood-drenched, murderous days.

His father Joseph passed away four days after his final incarceration in Federal Prison on June 16, 1992. Perhaps the early bitterness still burned.

In the end, the enemy was Cancer. It was merciless, as he was.

His fate was sealed.

The Gambino Prince, alone with himself, with his defiance and pride, shackled.

The demon had him by the throat.

  

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