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
"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
* * *
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
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
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:
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.
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
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
John Joseph Gotti,Jr., the fifth of 13
children, was born in the
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
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.
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
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
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.