The Tommy Goodfellas scene when the character gets whacked is still one of the most iconic moments in the movie. Martin Scorsese has explored a variety of genres throughout his career, but he’s still best remembered for his gangster films – and the one often regarded as his best is Goodfellas, released in 1990. Based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, Goodfellas chronicles the life of mob associate Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). Henry was acquainted with some big names in the mob, among those Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). Tommy was well-known in the mob for his violent and impulsive behavior, qualities which ultimately led to his death.
Although the Tommy Goodfellas character’s death — both in the movie and in real life — continues to be surrounded by mystery, it’s speculated that he was killed in retaliation for the murder of Billy Batts. A member of the Gambino crime family, Batts was a “made man” meaning he couldn’t be killed without permission from the boss of the family he was part of. However, someone told the Gambino family and had Tommy killed, and they did so by making him believe he was being “made”. Tommy met the requirements to become a “made man”, so he didn’t initially suspect it was a trap. Once he arrived at his coronation “ceremony”, however, he quickly realized his fate.
Out of the three main characters, Henry, Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), and Tommy, Tommy was the only one who could be a made man in Goodfellas. When a member of the mob is chosen to be “made man” they have to take the mafia code of silence and carry out a contract killing in order to prove their loyalty and show they’re not undercover agents, and it’s all made official through an induction ceremony. After that, the person holds the rank of “soldier” in the mafia hierarchy and can escalate through the ranks.
The induction ceremony is typically well-attended, and that’s exactly why the Tommy Goodfellas character knew he was going to be killed, even though he was shot in the back of the head. Tommy was taken by Tuddy Cicero (Paul’s brother, played by Frank DiLeo) and another man to the location, and as soon as they entered, Tommy saw there was no one there, and that’s how he realized, although for a very brief moment, that he was getting killed.
In Goodfellas, the one who killed Tommy DeVito was Tuddy, prompting viewers to theorize that it was Paul who told the Gambino family that Tommy was the one responsible for Batts’ murder. Whether it was Paul or someone else remains a mystery. What’s known to be true is that, according to the known rules of the mob, Tommy had to be killed for murdering Billy Batts due to the latter being a “made man”. Tommy DeVito definitely wasn’t expecting to fall into a trap like that either, as he believed he was pretty much untouchable due to his reputation for violence.
What Goodfellas Changed About Tommy’s Death
The character of Tommy DeVito is based on the real-life gangster Tommy DeSimone, also known as “Two-Gun Tommy” or “Tommy D.” While Goodfellas depicts Tommy being shot in the face for killing Made Man Billy Batts, resulting in a closed-casket funeral, the real story of Tommy DeSimone’s death is much more mysterious. In reality, Tommy wasn’t ever given a burial or a funeral — because his body was never actually found. There are varying accounts surrounding DeSimone’s strange disappearance, but nothing has been conclusively uncovered.
Interestingly enough, Tommy’s brother, Anthony DeSimone, was killed by the gangster Thomas Agro when he became an informant. In addition, Tommy’s wife Angela had a brother named Joe “The Barber” Spione, who was also killed for refusing to off his brother-in-law. While these details aren’t included, Tommy’s hair-trigger personality is accurately displayed as he committed his first murder at 17, and his victim was a random stranger named Howard Goldstein.
After the Lufthansa Heist, of which much of it was planned by DeSimone himself, Tommy was supposed to meet fellow mobsters for a celebration ceremony. However, when his mother was contacted, she said it was too snowy, and they called the whole thing off. Jimmy Burke (DeNiro’s Jimmy Conway) made another phone call, only to find out that Tommy DeSimone had been whacked by the Gotti family for the murder of Billy Batts and Foxy Jerothe, according to Henry Hill. DeSimone was reportedly dating the sister of Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe, who was involved with Gotti, and Foxy threatened to kill him when he found out DeSimone assaulted his sister.
Street stories claim that DeSimone was cut in half with a chainsaw and dumped into the ocean. However, a former associate of the Gotti family has spoken out saying that Gotti was not involved with the hit, but rather, Jimmy the Gent aka Jimmy Burke was actually behind it. The reason? To cover his tracks with the Lufthansa Heist. Jimmy was going to kill Henry in Goodfellas, so it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see him kill another friend. In this case, it’s believed that his body was dumped in a scrap metal yard. The real Tommy DeVito/Tommy DeSimone’s death in Goodfellas probably went down differently, but there’s no way to be sure.
Getting Whacked Didn’t Stop Tommy Being A Career-Defining Role For Joe Pesci
In rewatching the movie, fans might be surprised by how early the Tommy Goodfellas murder scene happens. It comes at the end of the second act which means there is still a good chunk of the movie left after Tommy dies. However, despite his earlier exit, Joe Pesci’s performance as Tommy completely steals the show. It deservedly won the actor an Oscar and remains a career-defining moment for the actor. Pesci has had a wide variety of roles in his career and has actually appeared in more comedies than dramas. His performances in Home Alone and My Cousin Vinny are favorites that showcase his silly side, but even they can’t distract from his performance as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas.
Tommy’s death scene is a great example of why Pesci’s performance is so effective and goes beyond just being a violent gangster. Before Tommy meets his end, there are several iconic moments in Goodfellas that make Tommy out to be the villain. The famous “How am I funny” scene makes him out to be a truly intimidating man who can change scary in a flash. The murder of Batts shows the rage and brutality Tommy is capable of. And Tommy killing Spider shows him to be a cold-blooded killer. However, even after witnessing all of that, the moment in Goodfellas when Tommy realizes he is being whacked, Pesci makes the audience feel sorry for him.