‘Goodfellas’: How the ‘Stacks’ Edwards Character Matched His Real-Life Counterpart

If you watch Goodfellas (1990) during its 30th anniversary, you’ll see some familiar faces in small parts. Start with Michael Imperioli, who went on to play Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos. Imperioli had his breakout role playing Spider, the kid who got in the wrong psychopath’s way.

Vincent Pastore, who played Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero on The Sopranos, played an even smaller role in Goodfellas. After Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) introduces the crew at the Bamboo Lounge, you see Pastore moving around a rack of fur coats.

Then there’s Samuel L. Jackson in the role of “Stacks” Edwards. When Hill introduces him prior to the Lufthansa heist, Stacks sounds like a real part of the crew. “He used to hang around the lounge and play guitar,” Hill says in voiceover. “Everybody loved Stacks.”

In the film, it doesn’t end well for Jackson’s character. Things didn’t work out well for the real Stacks Edwards, either. As Nicholas Pileggi laid out in the source book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family (1985), Stacks made a fatal error after the Lufthansa heist.

The real ‘Stacks’ Edwards was to help on the Lufthansa heist as depicted in ‘Goodfellas’

Samuel L. Jackson in 1995
Circa 1995: Samuel L. Jackson | The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

RELATED: ‘Goodfellas’: What Happened to Michael Imperioli’s Spider Character in Real Life

In Wiseguy, Hill mentions Stacks to Pileggi on several occasions in the years before the 1978 Lufthansa heist. Sometime in the late ’60s, Stacks (“a tall, skinny Black guy”) fell in with Hill and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and other mobsters hustling in Queens and Brooklyn.

When he wasn’t playing blues guitar at Hill and Conway’s clubs, Stacks was running a profitable credit-card scam. As soon as he got a stolen card, he headed to the mob hangouts and ran up bills that meant cash for all parties. And by all accounts he was a likeable guy.

So when the crew was planning the Lufthansa job, they found a spot for Stacks. As in Goodfellas, he was to take the vehicle used for the robbery to New Jersey for compacting after they finished the job. But Stacks didn’t do that.

“Instead, Stacks had gotten stoned and left the van on East 98th St. and Linden Blvd., in Canarsie, about a mile and a half from the airport,” Hill said in Wiseguy. “Then the jerk went home to sleep. The next day the cops found it.”

Stacks also got murdered by Tommy DeSimone as in ‘Goodfellas’

'Goodfellas'
Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino, and Joe Pesci pose for a ‘Goodfellas’ publicity shot. | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Not only did NYPD find the van Stacks left in Canarsie; they also found a leather jacket, ski masks, and fingerprints with it. In short, Stacks had given police the biggest lead they could get on the heist of the century — all because he was too lazy to follow through and ditch the van.

Obviously, Stacks’ days were numbered after police found the van. But he kept hanging around Conway’s club as if nothing had happened. “Stacks should have been running for his life,” Hill said in Wiseguy. “But instead he’s in Robert’s screwing around.”

On December 18, 1978, one week after the Lufthansa heist, Tommy DeSimone (in Goodfellas, the character Tommy DeVito played by Joe Pesci) and an associate went to Stacks’ apartment and shot him in the head and chest six times. Police found Stacks dead in his bed like that. It happened almost exactly the way it did in Goodfellas. Stacks was 31.