NEW YORK, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Henry Hill may be a new man, but he still loves few things more than a good story and a great meal.
The mob turncoat, who was immortalized in the 1990 films "GoodFellas" and "My Blue Heaven," now believes in God, works with troubled youths, is a frequent consultant to law-enforcement agencies and has even penned "The Wiseguy Cookbook," a volume chock-full of mouth-watering recipes like "Mom's Antipasto," "Sunday Gravy," "Striped Bass for Paulie," and "Oven Penitentiary Sauce with Sausage" and written in Hill's inimitable voice.
Two decades of counseling, soul-searching, and a successful battle against alcoholism and drug addiction have left the Brooklyn native feeling as though he has gotten a second chance at life.
"It took a long time for me to forgive myself," Hill told United Press International in a recent telephone interview. "I just try to be one grain of sand better today than I was yesterday. I found my spirituality. I help the kids, young people in trouble."
Reflecting on his long career as a mobster, his decision to end it by testifying against his former associates, and his colorful relationship with the government while in the Federal Witness Protection program, Hill says he no longer looks over his shoulder for fear one of his former associates will kill him.
"For 10 years, I lived a miserable life, but now there isn't anyone alive that I was involved with... the people that tried to kill me and my family, that's the only people I knew about and most of them wound up with bullets in their head," Hill explained. "I work hard. I'm not on Easy Street by no means, but I'm okay. I live a good life. I try to keep my life simple.
"The stigma of being a rat is hard to live with," he admitted, adding he now finds comfort in the thought that he actually may have saved lives by helping put away the bad guys.
Hill also says he has found redemption in working with troubled teens who have had brushes with crime or addiction.
"I try to explain to them they can overcome anything in life and they can forgive themselves," he said.
Although he may be living the straight and narrow, Hill confesses he is still fascinated by mob-themed entertainment, especially the hit HBO series, "The Sopranos."
"To me, it's the best show that they've ever done on it," Hill said, noting he never misses an episode. "You could take 95 percent of the guys on that show, sit them on a corner in Brooklyn and they'd be just fine."
Hill says the same goes for "GoodFellas," the Martin Scorsese film based on his life story.
"That's the way it is," he stated. "It wasn't glamorized. It showed what it was like."
Hill does, however, condemn films that perpetuate the so-called mob mystique, noting that being a mobster is more "every man for himself" than "family first" or "honor among thieves."
Asked if it bothers him to watch movies or TV programs that remind him of his former life, Hill replies: "I watch them all... I don't take that whole life seriously... I own my past."
Cooking is one good element from his past that Hill can link to his new life.
Noting that he loved preparing, serving and eating good Italian food from the time he was a tike helping his mother in the kitchen, Hill recalls his experience in the Witness Protection Program as a particular hardship since it meant being sent to places such as Nebraska, Kentucky and Washington State, where authentic Italian cuisine was hard to find.
"Henry Hill was obsessed with two things -- being a gangster and being a cook," writes Nicholas Pileggi in the introduction to Hill's cookbook. "They infused everything in his life. When he was hiding because his former compatriots were planning to kill him, he repeatedly endangered his life for dinner."
(Pileggi wrote the book, "Wiseguy," on which "GoodFellas" was based. Hill says he and the author are in talks to do a sequel. The comedy, "My Blue Heaven," which starred Steve Martin as a fast-talking gangster who refuses to keep a low profile and which was released the same year as "GoodFellas," was written by Pileggi's wife, Nora Ephron.)
Explaining how food was an integral part of mob life, Hill says in the book: "Eating is just as important as making a score or bribing a cop. When's the last time you saw a thin mobster presiding over a sit-down at a bare table?"
In between recipes nobody could refuse, the former wiseguy shares spicy stories about his life in the mob.
Recalling a stint he did in jail during the 1970s, Hill says that he and his associates lived in relatively normal lives in a dormitory-type setting where they cooked sumptuous meals every day.
"Prison was very expensive back then," Hill writes. "It cost between fifteen hundred and two thousand dollars a month just in bribe money and that's not counting the cost of the food."
Noting that the routine in jail wasn't much different from life on the outside, Hill says one perk that came with living in the big house was that you didn't have to go home to your wife at the end of the day.
"A guy could do 18 months in Allenwood standing on his head, but 18 months at home with Angelina, who scaled in at about 220 in spandex, had four-inch nails and a mustache, was enough to make Al Capone do honest work," he said, arguing that if the government really wanted to punish wiseguys they should place them under house arrest.
"The Wiseguy Cookbook," which Hill co-wrote with Priscilla Davis, is in stores now.
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