‘Goodfellas’: Did Henry Hill’s Wife Karen Pull a Gun on Him in Real Life?

While it’s a shame audiences can’t celebrate the 30th anniversary of Goodfellas (1990) with an in-theater screening, there’s plenty of material for fans of the Martin Scorsese classic to consume in the privacy (and safety) of their own homes in 2020.

That list includes Glenn Kenny’s Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas, which Hanover Square Press released to coincide with the anniversary. Kenny’s book brings fans behind the scenes for the film’s casting process (Tom Cruise, anyone?) and every step beyond.

But Kenny would be is the first to remind readers about the treasure that is Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family (1985), the source book for Goodfellas. If you love matching the real-life story to films, Wiseguy makes the ultimate Goodfellas companion.

Pileggi, a veteran New York crime reporter, got the story straight from Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). After he entered the Witness Protection Program, Hill told his tale in vivid detail. His wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco) also spoke to Pileggi. And their stories matched for the famous gun-in-the-face scene.

Henry and Karen Hill told the gun story much like Martin Scorsese depicted it in ‘Goodfellas’

Ray Liotta poses for a publicity portrait for ‘Goodfellas,’ 1990. | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

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While Scorsese and Pileggi had to omit a great deal for their Goodfellas script, several scenes from Pileggi’s book play out almost exactly as they appeared in Wiseguy. The scene in which Karen holds a gun to Henry’s face counts among them.

In the film, Karen wakes up a sleeping Henry as she points the gun straight at his nose. “I put it between his eyes,” Karen told Pileggi for Wiseguy. “I called his name softly. Like I was waking him up from a nap.” Those details all made it into Goodfellas.

Henry Hill recalled being very drunk (“smashed”) and then dozing off. He woke up to Karen on top of him. “I always kept a loaded gun in the bedroom closet and I knew it worked,” Henry said in Wiseguy. “I could see the bullets in the cylinder.”

So did Karen really cock the hammer as she held the gun in Henry’s face? Yes: “I cocked the gun, I pulled back the hammer,” she told Pileggi. Henry remembered it the same way. “She pulled back the hammer on the gun,” he said. “I sobered up immediately.”

Karen Hill said she felt she could have killed Henry that night

Lorraine Bracco and Ray Liotta at a 'Goodfellas' screening
Lorraine Bracco and Ray Liotta arrive for a screening of “Goodfellas.” | Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Initially, Karen planned to scare her husband. But things changed when she was on top of Henry. “Once I had the gun in my hand my palm began to sweat,” she said in Wiseguy. “I felt so powerful it was frightening. The gun was heavy.” Her thinking became murderous.

“Once I had it I began to feel that I could use it,” she said. “I felt that I could have killed him.” In the end, she didn’t do it. She recalled feeling “very, very attracted” to him. She couldn’t hurt him. And she yearned for Henry’s nice side. “He could be […] so nice you wanted to bottle it,” she told Pileggi.

After he got Karen to stop pointing the gun at his face, Henry exploded. “I was so mad I belted her,” he said in Wiseguy. “I didn’t need this bullsh*t.” He had to worry about getting clipped by rival gangsters; the last thing he needed was Karen pointing a gun at his head. The scene in Goodfellas followed these accounts almost to the letter.