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'The Irishman': The real people behind Martin Scorsese's Philadelphia mob movie

Nick Vadala, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Entertainment News

Director Martin Scorsese's latest epic, "The Irishman," hit Netflix on Wednesday to tell the tale of reputed Philadelphia mob associate Frank Sheeran.

Based on author Charles Brandt's 2004 book "I Heard You Paint Houses," the film takes place across several decades, but of particular focus is Sheeran's claim that he killed former International Brotherhood of Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa in 1975.

Hoffa famously went missing that year in Detroit, and while his body was never found, he was declared legally dead in 1982. But as Sheeran told Brandt on his deathbed in 2003, he was actually behind the famed labor leader's disappearance after killing him with two gunshots in an empty Detroit house. Hoffa's body, Sheeran added, was burned to ash at a nearby crematorium, which explains why his remains have never turned up.

"When Jimmy saw that the house was empty, that nobody came out of any of the rooms to greet him, he knew right away what it was," Sheeran said in the book. "He reached for the knob and Jimmy Hoffa got shot twice at a decent range -- not too close or the paint splatters back at you -- in the back of the head behind his right ear. My friend didn't suffer."

However, being as "The Irishman" is something of a historical drama based on true events, it has caught some flak over the veracity of Sheeran's claims. After all, Sheeran did change his story; he told the Daily News in 1995 that he had "nothing to do" with Hoffa's killing. But actor Robert De Niro, who plays Sheeran in the film, recently shrugged off that criticism, saying in a recent IndieWire interview that Sheeran's take "made a lot of sense to me."

Whether it's completely accurate or not, after a decade in development and $160 million spent in its making, "The Irishman" has arrived in all 3 1/2 hours of its mobbed-up glory. Here, we run down some of the real-life people who appear as characters in the film.

 

FRANK SHEERAN

A product of Darby, Delaware County, Frank Sheeran was a former president of Wilmington's Teamsters Local 326 and purported mafia hit man whose main claim to fame was killing Jimmy Hoffa in a mob assassination in 1975. But as Slate wrote earlier this year, Sheeran could also be referred to as the "Forrest Gump of organized crime" because he also claimed to have been clandestinely involved with major events like the Bay of Pigs invasion and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, as well as the murders of other Mafiosi, like Crazy Joe Gallo, and bribes to people including President Richard Nixon -- some of whom actually make it into "The Irishman." Ultimately, Sheeran, who is played by De Niro in the movie, died in a Philadelphia-area nursing home at age 83 in 2003.

JIMMY HOFFA

As De Niro's Sheeran says in "The Irishman," Jimmy Hoffa was about as famous as Elvis Presley or the Beatles in his day -- and not just because he mysteriously disappeared. Hoffa was a firebrand labor organizer who became involved with the mob before he was convicted of jury tampering, bribery, and fraud in 1964 over using the union's pension fund for loans to organized crime leaders. Played by Al Pacino, Hoffa ultimately served several years in prison for his crimes. The film alleges Hoffa was assassinated by Sheeran in a mob-sanctioned hit in Detroit in 1975 while attempting to regain power in the Teamsters union. The Hoffa case has never been solved.

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