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Bill Bonanno shed famous father’s crime boss past

Salvatore 'Bill' Bonanno

Salvatore 'Bill' Bonanno

Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno, a Tucson resident and scion of one of the most infamous crime families in American history, has died.

Mr. Bonanno, 75, felt ill Monday night, said his nephew Anthony Tarantola. Family members attributed the illness to food poisoning.

Midmorning on New Year’s Day, Mr. Bonanno had a heart attack and died, Tarantola said.

Mr. Bonanno was famous for his family’s ties to the Mafia, books he authored about them and time spent in a federal prison camp, but his across-the-street neighbor said that is not what he should be remembered for.

“I’m 87 years old, I’m from New Jersey and I’m telling you this man was the kindest man in the whole world,” said Loretta “Mitzie” Lazzatti. “There wasn’t anything I needed or wanted that Bill did not help me with. My heart has been so heavy all day.”

Lazzatti said Mr. Bonanno helped his neighbors on East Silver Street in “hundreds of little ways.”

During a wind storm last year, she didn’t feel safe enough to drive herself to University Medical Center for an appointment, she said.

“Bill dropped everything and took me to the appointment, waited with me there and brought me home,” she said. “That is the kind of man he was.”

Another time, Lazzatti said, a 91-year-old neighbor was locked out of her house and Mr. Bonanno scaled her fence, jimmied open the back door and opened the front door for the woman.

“He didn’t have to do these things,” Lazzatti said, “but he always told me, ‘Mitzie, anytime you need me, that’s what I’m here for.’ He was such a giving man and (the media) only talks about him being in prison.”

Cathy Grossman, Lazzatti’s daughter, said Mr. Bonanno’s death came as a “complete shock.”

“I never expected that news,” she said. “He was so wonderful to my mother, my kids and me.”

Grossman, 63, recalled a dinner she and her son had at Mr. Bonanno’s house with him and his wife, Rosalie.

“My son runs vineyards in California and Bill gave my son his father’s reference book on wine,” she said. “It’s a huge volume about every kind of wine imaginable and it was a really nice and appropriate gift for my son who he didn’t have to give anything.”

Mr. Bonanno was born Nov. 5, 1932, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the first child of Joseph and Fay Bonanno. The family soon moved to Long Island, but Bill developed an ear condition and the family physician advised the family to bring the boy to dry Arizona, according to a biography posted on his Web site.

The Bonanno family bought its first Tucson home in 1941, and the family’s children were raised here.

Mr. Bonanno married Rosalie Profacci in 1956 and they adopted a son, Charles. The couple then had three more children, Joseph, Salvatore and Gigi.

In 1968 Bonanno was imprisoned on contempt of court, credit card and other white-collar charges after being indicted by a New York City grand jury.

Between his first stint in prison and 1993, he spent 12 years behind bars for several convictions.

In 2006, Mr. Bonanno and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a gala event at a Tucson-area resort. It featured a slide show set to music of family photos.

In typical Bonanno humor, a section of the slide show devoted to the Mafia side of the family began with the theme song from “The Godfather” movies. It’s been said that Mr. Bonanno was the model for the Michael Corleone character.

In June, Mr. Bonanno, his wife, children and grandchildren were featured in a Newsweek article written by Gay Talese, who wrote the 1971 best-selling biography of the Bonanno family, “Honor Thy Father.”

“It was great getting the children (all now approaching middle age) together for a couple of fun-filled days in Tucson,” Mr. Bonanno wrote in his Web site blog about a family reunion that preceded the Newsweek article.

Mr. Bonanno spent decades as an adviser to his father before he joined his father in retirement in Tucson and became an author. He spent the last years of his life trying to shatter myths and expose truths about the Mafia.

Mr. Bonanno’s father died in 2002.

In 2005, Mr. Bonanno formed a curious allegiance with Joe Pistone, the former undercover FBI agent who helped bring down the Mafia when he infiltrated the Bonanno crime family as Donnie Brasco. The result of the allegiance was a fictional mob book, “The Good Guys.”

In 2000, Mr. Bonanno wrote “Bound by Honor: A Mafioso’s Story,” which told parallel stories of two famous American families whose lives intertwined: the Kennedys and the Bonannos.

Mr. Bonanno was open about his theory that John F. Kennedy was slain because his father, Joe Kennedy, failed to honor a pact with the Mafia that won JFK the presidency.

Mr. Bonanno took it upon himself to set the Mafia into what he saw as its rightful place in history.

“Anybody who takes the past 70 years in the history of this country and doesn’t take into account the story of this small group of men from a small Mediterranean country is telling a false history,” Mr. Bonanno told the Tucson Citizen in 1999. “We’re not ashamed of who we are.”

Mr. Bonanno was executive producer of a movie, “Bonanno: a Godfather’s Story,” that aired on the Showtime cable network in 1999 and combined tales from his book as well as Talese’s “Honor Thy Father.”

In May, Mr. Bonanno began work on a project, “Mafia Decoded,” a television series dealing with the Mafia and related issues, according to his blog. He also was featured in a TV show about former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s dark side and in stories about the end of the fictional HBO Mafia show “The Sopranos,” which Mr. Bonanno enjoyed watching.

Mr. Bonanno said on his Web site that he was working on another book this year.

In addition to his wife and nephew, Mr. Bonanno is survived by his sister, Catherine R. Genovese; sons Charles, Joseph, Salvatore and daughter Gigi; 18 grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

A rosary will be said Sunday with a funeral Mass on Monday in Tucson, Tarantola said.



Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno:


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