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John Gotti dies of cancer at 61 in 2002

Mobster John Gotti is shown arriving at New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Mobster John Gotti is shown arriving at New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
New York Daily News

(Originally published by the Daily News on June 11, 2002. This was written by Mike Claffey, Greg Gittrich, Robert Ingrassia, Jose Martinez, John Marzulli, Ralph R. Ortega, Derek Rose and Corky Siemaszko.)

The Last Don is done.

John Gotti, the Bronx-born tough who shot his way to the top of the Gambino crime family and became the most celebrated mobster since Al Capone, died yesterday at a Missouri prison hospital after a long battle with throat cancer at 61.

“He was a gangster and proud of it,” said retired FBI agent Bruce Mouw, who spent 18 years building the case that convicted Gotti. “He was an old-fashioned La Cosa Nostra mobster. That was more important to him than anything in his life, including his family, his children.”

As word of Gotti’s death spread through the city, a stream of mourners – some carrying bags of food – stopped by Gotti’s two-story home in Howard Beach, Queens.

One by one, they looked up at the surveillance camera mounted above the front door and waited to be buzzed inside.

Later, Gotti’s daughter, Victoria Gotti, pulled up in a black Mercedes-Benz convertible with her teenage son.

“To these people, he was like a god,” said an elderly neighbor who refused to give his name.

Neighborhood icon

At the Bergin Hunt & Fish Club on 101st Ave. in Ozone Park, Queens, where Gotti once held court, members chased visitors away.

But neighbors talked about the annual Fourth of July fireworks display that Gotti paid for – and that former Mayor Rudy Giuliani put a stop to.

“It was something you looked forward to every summer,” said Alfonso Purpura, 37. “They wasted all their time videotaping him. They could have been videotaping terrorists.”

News of Gotti’s death also swept like wildfire through Little Italy, where his headquarters was the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry St. It is now a boutique.

“Someone passed by and said: ‘Did you hear? Gotti died,’ ” said one longtime local.

Funeral plans for the legendary mobster were still unclear last night.

Family friends have speculated that the mob boss would most likely be laid to rest beside his beloved son Frank inside the mausoleum at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens – where several other mob chieftains are buried.

A source close to the Gotti family said they are still debating whether to ask for a Catholic funeral Mass.

“That’s still in question,” the source said. “The church is having so many problems . . . they may not want any more controversy.”

Also, there’s no guarantee Gotti will be granted a Catholic sendoff.

“We have to wait to see what the wishes of the family might be before any decision is made,” said Frank DeRosa, spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens.

But Paul Castellano, the mob boss who was gunned down on Gotti’s orders in 1985, was denied a funeral Mass by John Cardinal O’Connor. So was Bonanno crime family boss Carmine Galante in 1979.

However, corrupt Teamsters leader Anthony Provenzano got a funeral Mass in New Jersey in 1988, despite his Mafia connections.

Also not clear was whether Gotti’s brothers Peter and Richard would be allowed to attend the funeral. They were arrested last week – along with 16 other reputed Gambino family members – on racketeering charges.

John Gotti’s death “marks the end of the era of the big, flashy gangster,” said former Brooklyn Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie Orenstein, part of the prosecution team that nailed the mob boss in 1992 for murder and racketeering. “People might have said that about Capone when he died.”

Autopsy scheduled

The Bureau of Prisons said it would release the body in a few days, after a routine autopsy.

Family lawyer Joseph Corozzo said he has asked the feds to “release his body immediately.”

“There’s no question that what caused his death was cancer, although there may have been complications,” Corozzo said.

Like Capone, who was done in by syphilis, Gotti was a shadow of his former self when he died of cancer yesterday.

John Gotti emerges from Queens social club on his 47th birthday in 1987.
John Gotti emerges from Queens social club on his 47th birthday in 1987.

As head of the powerful Gambino crime family, he cut a dashing figure with carefully coiffed hair and $2,000 Brioni suits. Cops, photographers and even tourists trailed him as he made his rounds through Little Italy.

Bedridden since January, Gotti spent his last days alone in a cell-like hospital room – hooked up to machines that kept him alive.

His famous face was twisted and ravaged by cancer. His silvery mane was depleted by anti-cancer drugs. His voice was gone – lost to a tracheotomy.

When Gotti died at 11:45 a.m., he was wearing a prison-issue smock.

Gotti’s kin learned of the death through CNN and calls from news reporters, a family friend said.

Hours later, prison officials notified the family.

“It’s a disgrace and insensitive,” said Lewis Kasman, who considered himself Gotti’s adopted son. “He was a man amongst men, a champion. He fought like hell this terrible disease, and the [Bureau of Prisons] didn’t have the decency to tell the man’s family.”

Prison officials denied Kasman’s charge.

“I did not release the press release or confirm the death of Mr. Gotti until after Mr. Gotti’s next of kin was notified,” said prison spokeswoman Diane Smith.

Gerald Shargel, who represented Gotti at one of his many trials, said “he was one of a kind” and that his last days were marked by great suffering.

“I saw him [two years ago] at a very difficult time,” Shargel said. “He had just been operated on. His face was distorted. . . . But when he spoke, he was the same John Gotti, not wanting to give anyone the satisfaction of a complaint.”

Another Gotti lawyer, Bruce Cutler, added, “You will never see the likes of John Gotti again.”

Gotti, who ruled the Gambino organization for seven years, was convicted in 1992 on the testimony of mob turncoat Salvatore (Sammy Bull) Gravano.

He was serving a life term in solitary confinement at the maximum-security prison in Marion, Ill., when he was diagnosed with cancer in September 1998. Two years later, Gotti was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo.

Victoria Gotti, daughter of former mob boss John Gotti, with her son yesterday at Howard Beach home.
Victoria Gotti, daughter of former mob boss John Gotti, with her son yesterday at Howard Beach home.

In January, Gotti became too weak to walk to the visiting rooms. After that, only his wife and children were allowed to see him – and their brief visits were videotaped by ever-watchful prison officials.

With Gotti’s health failing, the Gambino organization fell into disarray.

His brother Peter, 62, took the helm after the Don’s oldest son, John A. (Junior) Gotti, 37, was convicted of racketeering. Last week, police rounded up the Gotti brothers and broke up an alleged racketeering ring at the Brooklyn and Staten Island docks.

Gotti apparently knew nothing about the arrests. By then, he was already in what prison officials called a medically induced coma.

Fading fame

For some, the legend of John Gotti had began to fade long beforehand.

The Ravenite Social Club – the old Gotti headquarters in Little Italy – is now a gleaming boutique named after its owner Amy Chan.

Chan said that only the radiator and mosaic tile floor remain from Gotti’s days – and she was unsentimental about his passing.

“It has a lot of character,” she said. “This was the club when it was that era. But this is now.”

Marin Wild, 32, an art historian who recently moved to the neighborhood from Switzerland, didn’t even recognize Gotti’s name.

“I’m new here,” Wild said. “I never heard of him. Should I have?”

Gotti was married to the former Victoria DiGiorgio, and they had five children. In addition to Victoria and John, he is also survived by another son, Peter, and daughter Angela.

The fifth child, Frank – the apple of Gotti’s eye – was 12 and riding a borrowed minibike when he was accidentally killed in 1980 by a neighbor near the family’s Howard Beach home. The neighbor, John Favara, disappeared four months later.