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With ‘The Godfather,’ Art Imitated Mafia Life. And Vice Versa.

That scene imprinted on the young Gravano, who said he had given versions of that order many times. “I would tell people: If you open your mouth, have an opinion to do something, they’ll know you’re a weak link,” he said.

He always related most closely with one character. “I literally see myself as Michael Corleone,” he said. “I was in the military, I came home and I went in the Mafia. I abided by the rules and regulations, I stayed quiet. I stayed a family man with my wife and kids.”

Gravano, who was so moved as a young man by a saga of the Mafia’s allure, went on to play a major role in the organization’s undoing. He became a cooperating federal witness and testified against Gotti and others in return for a five-year prison term and entry into the witness protection program. Gravano blames Gotti, who became known as the “The Dapper Don,” for the whole thing falling apart.

“Gotti, in his flamboyant ways, broke every rule in the book,” he said. “He did more damage to the Mafia than 10 people who cooperated put together. You never saw any Mafioso do what he did.”

Benjamin Brafman, a prominent criminal defense lawyer who has in the past represented defendants in organized crime cases, sees “The Godfather” as a postcard from the past. “It glorified an era I don’t think exists anymore,” he said.

Sammy the Bull would agree. Gravano left witness protection years ago and, turning 77 this month, shares stories from his life in a podcast, “Our Thing,” from a studio outside of Phoenix. He said that he doesn’t envy what passes for today’s mobster, unrecognizable to the Corleones. But he still thinks of the movie.

“Here I am, 100 years later,” he chuckled, “still quoting ‘The Godfather.’”

Audio produced by Jack D’Isidoro.

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