|Don Michael Corleone|
|Aliases||Mike, Mikey, Don Corleone|
Hell's Kitchen, New York, U.S.
Bagheria, Sicily, Italy
|Title(s)||Don, The Godfather|
- "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
Don Michael Corleone was the head of the Corleone family following the demise of his father.
Born in 1920, to Vito and Carmela Corleone, Michael was deeply loved by his father, even prompting Vito to murder blackmailer Massimo Fanucci so he could support Michael and the rest of his family. He became a bright and handsome young man, and of all of Vito Corleone's children, Michael was said to be most like him in terms of intelligence, personality, and cunning.
The Prodigal Son
- "That's my family Kay, not me."
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
Michael initially wanted nothing to do with the Corleone's "family business," and enrolled at Dartmouth College in order to escape it. In truth, his father never wanted Michael to be involved in the family's criminal enterprise, and actually hoped he'd go into politics. After the United States' entry into World War II in 1941, he enlisted in the Marines (training under Sergeant Bradshaw) and fought in the Pacific, even though his father had expended great effort to wrangle a deferment for him. For his bravery in battle, Michael was awarded the Navy Cross, he was also featured in Life magazine in 1944. Michael was discharged as a Captain to recover from wounds- along with friend Hank Vogelsong- in 1945 (unbeknownst to him, the doctor treating him had been bribed by his father to exaggerate his injury in order to send him home). Returning to Dartmouth, he met a young teaching student, Kay Adams; the two fell in love. He assured Kay on numerous occasions that he wanted a more normal life, and wanted nothing at all to do with the Mafia.
However, when his father was nearly assassinated in 1945, he volunteered to murder the men responsible, Virgil Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey, a police captain who was acting as Sollozzo's bodyguard, following McCluskey's assault on Michael at the hospital where his father was treated for his injuries.
Michael's older brother, Sonny Corleone, was shocked at this suggestion, since it had long been a hard and fast rule in the American Mafia that policemen were not to be harmed. However, Michael showed his cunning when he argued that McCluskey was fair game since he was serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard. He also suggested that the family use their contacts in the newspaper to play up McCluskey's connection to Sollozzo, thereby relieving some of the flack that the Corleones would receive afterward. After committing the murders, Michael fled to Sicily.
Under the protection of his father's old friend Lionele Tommasino, Michael remained in hiding for two years, living in Dr. Taza's old villa and receiving warm hospitality from the Mayor of Bagheria, Bendino.
Michael's time in Sicily has a profound effect on him. While there, he learned of the Mafia's roots. While in Sicily, he fell in love with, and soon married, a beautiful young woman named Apollonia, but she was killed by a car bomb intended for Michael. After this, Michael decided to fully join his father's business.During this time, Michael was visted by Clemenza, who told him that his father wants him to escort Salvatore Giuliano safely back to America with him. As he learns more about Guiliano's reputation and exploits, Michael becomes extremely intrigued to meet him, but Giuliano was killed by his dearest friend, cousin, and second in command Gaspare Pisciotta. Upon returning from Sicily Michael speaks with his father who proceeds to explain what happened with the plan to escort Giuliano from Sicily and how it all went wrong, that ultimately Michael was used as a pawn to ensure his own safety in a deal Vito made with Don Croce Malo to obtain evidence collected by Giuliano to use against Don Croce and the Christian democratic party, without the evidence in his possession, Giuliano's days were numbered and his fate was sealed after he made a final but failed attempt on Don Croce.
Michael voices his thoughts with Vito who tells him"That is Sicily..." .
The New Don
- "Today, I settle all family business."
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
While in Sicily, he learned that his older brother Sonny had been murdered and he returned to New York. There, he reluctantly became involved in his family's criminal enterprises, taking over for his deceased brother as underboss of the family under Vito's supervision and subtly attacking the other families' businesses through the use of his secret caporegime, Rocco Lampone. At the same time, he persuaded his father that it was time to remove the family from the Mafia. He married Kay a year later, promising to make the Corleone family legitimate within five years. They have two children, Anthony and Mary. They were born within two years of each other, leading Michael to joke that Kay is "more Italian than Yankee."
Vito went into semiretirement in 1954, and Michael became operating head of the family. At first, longtime capos Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio, as well as consigliere Tom Hagen, weren't sure that Michael was strong enough to keep the family going, especially as the Barzini and Tattaglia families moved in on the Corleones' territory. Clemenza and Tessio were even more convinced of this when Michael refused to allow them to retaliate. In truth, Michael and his father had begun planning to wipe out Barzini and Tattaglia soon after Michael's return to the United States. Soon after taking over day-to-day control of the family, Michael tried to buy out casino owner Moe Greene's stake in his Las Vegas casino, intending to move his family to Nevada.
Vito died in 1955, and Michael officially became Don. Shorlty before his death, Vito had warned Michael that after he was gone, the Barzini family would make an attempt on his life under the pretense of organizing a meeting to make peace between the two families. At the funeral, Tessio inadvertently revealed that he had conspired with Emilio Barzini against him. Shortly after the funeral, Michael puts his plan into action. He orders the murders of the leaders of the New York Mafia's other Dons (Barzini, Phillip Tattaglia, Carmine Cuneo, and Victor Stracci) as well as Tessio. He also orders the murder of Carlo Rizzi, his brother-in-law, who beat his sister Connie and sold out Sonny. Carlo had been led to believe that he would be Michael's second-in-command when they moved to Nevada. However, this was merely a ploy to make Carlo vulnerable, per Vito's advice to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."
When Connie finds out that Michael had Carlo killed while he stood godfather to their baby, she flies into a rage. Michael dismisses it as hysteria, and when pressed by Kay, denies any involvement in the murder to placate her. Just moments later, however, he meets with his capos. Clemenza greets him as "Don Corleone" and kisses Michael's hand. Unbeknownst to Michael, Kay is watching this meeting, and realizes that Connie was telling the truth after all — and that her husband has become a powerful Don even more ruthless than his father.
The Move to Nevada
- "It made me think of what you once told me - "in five years the Corleone family will be completely legitimate." That was seven years ago.
I know...I'm trying darling."
- ―Kay Adams and Michael Corleone[src]
A few years after the move to Nevada, Michael, now in his mid-thirties, named Clemenza as consigliere and head of the family's New York operations. Clemenza died of a supposed heart attack, and was replaced by longtime family friend and soldier Frank Pentangeli.
Although he is now firmly entrenched as the most powerful crime boss in the nation, he steps up his efforts to make the Corleone family legitimate. For instance, he buys a construction company and several other businesses in an effort to lead a more normal life. However, his efforts at redeeming the family were largely unsuccessful, however, as his many enemies kept him involved in the underworld. He begins working out a deal with Hyman Roth, a longtime business partner of the family as well as a rival, over control of casino operations. Unknown to Michael, Roth was actually maneuvering to have Michael killed in revenge for the death of Moe Greene, his longtime friend. Roth manipulated Michael's brother Fredo into unwittingly providing him with information used to arrange an attempt on Michael's life. He also attempted to murder Pentangeli, making him think that Michael was to blame.
Michael concludes on his own that Roth was behind the assassination attempt, but suspects that he had help from a mole in the Corleone family. He decides to make Roth think they still have a good business relationship--but only as a ploy to find out who Roth paid to set up the hit.
Michael and Roth travelled to Cuba to forge a partnership with Fulgencio Batista's government, allowing them to be free to conduct their operations in Cuba without interference from the authorities, in return for generous payments to Batista. While in Cuba, Michael sent his loyal bodyguard Bussetta to kill both Roth and his right-hand man, Johnny Ola, on New Year's Eve. That night, he discovered Fredo was the one who'd sold him out to Roth, leading Fredo to flee during Castro's takeover that night. Bussetta managed to kill Ola, but when he tried to smother Roth to death, he was shot to death by soldiers. Roth recovered and tried to flee to Israel.
- "Mike, we've won. Why do you have to wipe everybody out?"
"I don't feel I have to wipe everyone out Tom. Just my enemies."
- ―Tom Hagen and Michael Corleone[src]
Meanwhile, Kay grows increasingly repulsed by Michael's growing immersion in criminal life. Fearing her unborn son will tie them to the Mafia forever, she secretly has it aborted while Michael is away in Cuba, but passes it off as a miscarriage.
Shortly afterward, Pentangeli and Cicci are persuaded to testify against Michael in the Senate's investigation of the Mafia. It turns out that the hearing was part of Roth's scheme to eliminate Michael. Fredo returned to Tahoe at this point, and claimed he only dealt with Roth and Ola in hopes of getting rich on his own. He also reveals that he has long resented being passed over to head the family, feeling that as the second-oldest son, he should be the boss. Michael appears to believe that Fredo didn't know about Roth's attempt on his life. However, he severs all ties with his brother when Fredo admits he withheld vital information from him about the hearings, namely that the Senate lawyer, Questadt, belonged to Roth. He tells his bodyguard, Al Neri, that Fredo is to die--but doesn't want anything to happen to him while their mother is still alive.
Michael is initially unconcerned when Cicci testifies against him. However, he is alarmed when Pentangeli is called as a surprise witness, since there is no insulation between them. Knowing Pentangeli's testimony could easily send him to jail, Michael has his brother, Vincenzo, fly in from Sicily. Vincenzo's icy stare is enough for Frank to recant his testimony. After Michael returns from the hearing, Kay tells him that she plans to leave him and take their two children with her. Michael tries to get her to reconsider, but Kay, unmoved, tells him that her "miscarriage" was actually an abortion. Enraged, Michael slaps Kay across the face and banishes her from the family; the two divorce later that year.
Following the death of their mother and at Connie's behest, Michael appeared to reconcile with his brother, but secretly ordered Fredo's murder, an act he would regret for the rest of his life and eventually confess to the future pope. He also sent Rocco Lampone to kill Roth while he was returning to Miami.
An Old Foe Returns
Michael's troubles were only momentarily halted, for his treacherous capo, Nick Geraci soon re-emerged, having lived in a cave near Lake Erie following his departure from the family. Michael sent out a manhunt against him, led by Thomas Neri and the DiMiceli brothers, but this failed due to the unreliability of Michael's CIA contact, Joe Lucadello. At this time, Carlo Tramonti, the Don of New Orleans caused a stir in the Commission by announcing his plans to assassinate President James Shea.
Eventually, Geraci was brought out into the open with the help of Don Stracci and Don Frank Greco. Michael had his former associate executed by Eddie Paradise during an ambush on Staten Island. Don Tramonti and the treacherous Lucadello were also killed.
- "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
By 1979, Michael, now 59 years old, has moved back to New York and taken great steps to making the family legitimate. He has sold most of his casinos and reorganized his now-vast business holdings as the "Corleone Group." Some years earlier, he turned over what remains of his criminal interests in New York to Joey Zasa, a longtime member of the old Clemenza regime. However, he largely keeps Zasa at arm's length.
Michael initially kept custody of Anthony and Mary as a result of his divorce from Kay. However, sometime in the 1960s, he turned over custody of the children to their mother. They have had a somewhat frosty relationship over the years, made even chillier by the fact that Kay knows Michael killed Fredo.
Still guilty over his bloody rise to power, he is now using his wealth and power to restore his reputation. He has set up charitable foundation, and is named a Commander of the Order of St. Sebastian by the Vatican for his good works.
Michael's new connection to the Church gave him the opportunity to pursue his biggest deal ever--taking over the real estate company, Immobiliare. Michael is already the company's largest shareholder, and reaches an agreement in principle to acquire controlling interest by buying the Vatican's 25 percent stake. He also began to rekindle his relationship with Kay, as well as taking Sonny's illegitimate son, Vincent Mancini, under his wing, after the headstrong youth attacked Michael's subversive New York boss, Joey Zasa, at a party. Zasa later wiped out most the Commission, yet Michael and his old friend Don Altobello escaped. Michael had a stroke, and whilst incapacitated, Connie gave Vincent and Al Neri the go-ahead to kill Zasa.
The Immobiliare Plot
- "All my life I kept trying to go up in society. Where everything higher up was legal. But the higher I go, the crookeder it becomes."
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
Michael soon discovered that the Immobiiare deal is actually an elaborate swindle concocted by company chairman Licio Lucchesi and corrupt Vatican officials Archbishop Gilday and Frederick Keinszig to cover up their looting of the Vatican Bank. Hoping to salvage the deal, he sought the assistance of Don Tommasino. Tommasino directed him to the honest Cardinal Lamberto, who persuades him to make his first confession in 30 years. Michael tearfully confesses his many crimes, including the murder of Fredo.
Michael later returned to Sicily to watch Anthony perform at the Teatro Massimo. However, he soon became aware of an assassin, Mosca, whom Don Altobello, in league with the plotters, had hired to kill him. Mosca killed Tommasino, and Michael vowed before his dead friend's coffin to sin no more.
- "What betrayed me? My mind? My heart? Why do I condemn myself so? I swear, on the lives of my children: Give me a chance to redeem myself, and I will sin, no more."
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
Following this vow, Vincent, who had been spying on Altobello, revealed that Lucchesi was behind the plot against Michael's life. He asked for permission to strike back. Weary of the bloody, lonely life of a Don, Michael retired and made his nephew the new head of the family, on condition that he end his relationship with Mary. That night, Michael, reconciled with Kay and Anthony, watched his son perform in the opera Cavalleria rusticana. That same night, Vincent, with Michael's tacit blessing, wipes out Lucchesi, Gilday and Keinszig in a bloody wave of murders. However, Mary was inadvertently killed in an assassination attempt on her father, being shot to death in front of her whole family. Devastated by this loss, Michael retired to Sicily and bought Don Tomassino's old villa. He died there in 1997, distraught and alone, of a stroke while sitting in a chair in front of his villa.
- Vito Corleone — Father
- Carmela Corleone — Mother
- Tom Hagen — Adopted brother & Consigliere
- Andrew Hagen — Adopted nephew, and godson, son of Tom Hagen
- Santino Corleone — Eldest brother, Underboss to Vito
- Connie Corleone — Sister
- Fredo Corleone — Elder brother, Underboss to Michael and Vito
- Apollonia Vitelli — First Wife
- Kay Adams — Second Wife
- Anthony Corleone — Son
- Mary Corleone — Daughter
- Vincent Mancini — Nephew and succeeding Don
- Antonio Andolini — Grandfather
- Signora Andolini — Grandmother
Personality and traits
Michael was the strongest of the Corleone family, though not originally. He originally wanted nothing to do with the family business, but had quickly been pulled in after the assassination attempt on his father. When Michael volunteered to assassinate Sollozzo, everyone, especially Sonny, was surprised. While he was experienced in handling guns from his time in the Marines, Clemenza had to teach him how to quickly use a gun and dispose of it.
Once ensconced in the family business, Michael quickly established a reputation for ruthlessness. He preferred to wipe out all of his enemies in one blow, as happened with his slaughter of the other Dons.
However, where Michael truly shone was in business. He spent most of his tenure as Don trying to legitimize the family and remove his ties to the Mafia. He moved to Nevada and quickly turned the family into a successful business venture. He would only deal with people that had reasonable business connections and more or less knew his father. He despised hotshot business men like Moe Greene for not showing him or at least his family some respect. Michael loved his family, but had a selfish reason for having Anthony, as he wanted him to follow in his footsteps. When he showed no interest in the business, Michael chose to have another son.
This dream was cut short, however, as the boy Kay was to have was aborted. This was seen as one of the few times Michael ever showed anger at her. In Michael's final days as the don of the Corleones, he largely succeeded in his quarter-century drive to make the family legitimate. He finally swore off the mob life forever and turned over leadership of the family to his nephew Vincent. Just as he had finally shaken off his ties to the Mafia, was stricken by grief when his only daughter, Mary, was killed in an assassination attempt on his life.
In the video games
Michael appears in both Godfather video games, although he doesn't have Al Pacino's likeness or voice. The reason for this is because Mr Pacino signed a likeness agreement to another company for the video game Scarface: The World Is Yours. But the character was still used as Paramount and EA had rights to the Godfather.
In the first game
- "My father as suggested and I agreed, from today you will stand at my right hand, as my Caporegime."
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
In the first video game, main protagonist Aldo Trapani helped out Michael for several jobs, such as guarding the hospital to help Vito, and planted a gun so Michael can do a hit on Sollozzo and McCluskey, and then helping him to escape so Michael can flee to Sicily. In the final story mission he assisted in the hits of the five dons under Michael's order, and eventually became Underboss. Here he is voiced by Joseph May and is a much colder figure than in the film.
In the second game
- "I am trusting you to run New York Dominic, can you do this for me?"
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
Michael appears in the second video game, where Aldo is killed and role of Don of NYC is given to Dominic. He also encourages Dominic to ally himself with Samuele Mangano and is furious when Dominic betrays him. He eventually allows Dominic to prove himself by eliminating all threats to the Corleones. Here, he is voiced by Carlos Ferro and is a cruel, distant character.
Real life sources
Michael Corleone is loosely based on Joseph Bonanno and Vito Genovese. Bonanno became a boss of his own family at a very young age and he re-located some of his businesses to Arizona in the 1960s. Genovese had fled to Sicily in the 1930s due to murder charges and ordered the deaths of rival bosses in the 1950s.
Michael's papal recognition and charity funds may well be inspired by Joe Profaci's quest for papal approval. Like Michael, Profaci donated to Catholic charities and a group of leading Italian-Americans, including priests, petitioned the Pope to confer a knighthood on Profaci, which was eventually denied.
Behind the scenes
Michael Corleone is the main character and protagonist in The Godfather film series, in which he is portrayed by Al Pacino. Don Corleone, as portrayed by Pacino, is ranked as the eighth greatest movie character of all time by Total Film Magazine, and is recognized as the 11th most iconic villain in film history by the American Film Institute.
According to an early draft of the script, Vito expressly forbade the family from getting Michael involved in its shadier dealings.
Michael is the only character to be in every book, every film and every video game.
Notes and references
|Don of the Corleone crime family|