What Happened To Goodfellas’ Jimmy Conway After The Movie In Real Life

December 15, 2023 - Movies


  • Henry Hill’s testimonies against Jimmy Conway and Paul Cicero led to their arrests and convictions, with Paulie dying in prison and Jimmy serving a long sentence before his death in 1996. This differs from the events depicted in the movie.
  • The character of Jimmy Conway, based on James Burke, was involved in the Lufthansa heist and other crimes, but was ultimately convicted for conspiracy and his involvement in a gambling scandal.
  • Goodfellas changed some details about Jimmy Conway’s life, such as the portrayal of the Air France robbery and the murder of Billy Batts. In real life, these events were different and more premeditated.

Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas was just one of several gangsters from the 1970s and 1980s who are at the center of Martin Scorsese’s mob masterpiece. The story is told through the eyes of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), showing his life from his days as a teenager in a working-class Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn to his involvement in the Lufthansa heist and his decision to work as an informant for the FBI. Henry met a lot of powerful and dangerous gangsters through the years, including Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), with whom he worked since he was a teenager.

Though Henry Hill was a real person, the names of several other real-life gangsters were changed for the film. Jimmy Conway, for example, was actually James Burke a.k.a. Jimmy the Gent. The movie depicts the long and shocking relationship Henry shared with Jimmy over his life, from mentoring young Henry as he became involved in the business to working as colleagues on big scores to ultimately finding themselves enemies. However, the story of Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas doesn’t cover what happened to the real man after the events of the movie.


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Goodfellas: Jimmy Conway’s Life After The Events Of The Movie

The Basis For Robert De Niro’s Character Spent The Rest Of His Life In Prison

At the end of Goodfellas, Henry becomes an informant and enters (along with his family) the witness protection program. To avoid going to jail or being killed by Jimmy Conway and others, Henry tells the FBI everything they need to know about Jimmy and Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino). His testimonies are enough to have both men arrested and convicted. The movie ends with title cards explaining that Paulie died in the late 1980s in Forth Worth Federal Prison and that Jimmy was serving a 20-years-to-life sentence in New York and would be paroled in 2004.

In real life, Hill did say enough for Jimmy and Paulie (whose real-life counterpart was Paul Vario) to go to jail. Though Jimmy was actively involved in the Lufthansa heist, the murder of made man William “Billy Batts” Bentvena, and many more murders and crimes, Jimmy the Gent was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1982 for his involvement with the 1978-79 Boston College basketball point shaving scandal (two years prior, he was arrested for a parole violation).

While in prison, Henry also testified that Jimmy/James Burke killed a drug dealer in 1979, and for that, he was sentenced to 20 more years in prison in 1985. Jimmy would have been eligible for parole in March 2004, but that never got to happen. While serving time at Wende Correctional Facility in New York, Jimmy developed cancer and died in April 1996 at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

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What Goodfellas Changed About Jimmy Conway’s Life

Robert De Niro Wasn’t The Only Actor To Play James Burke On Screen

Goodfellas how Jimmy Conway compares to the real James Burke

Outside changing his last name, there were a few other changes made to the character of Jimmy Conway/James Burke in Goodfellas. For instance, one of the major robberies in the film, Air France, went down differently in real life. Rather than receiving the keys from Frenchy McMahon, there was a lot more prep work involved. After plenty of surveillance, James and the gang realized that the security guard had a particular weakness for women. So, they got him very drunk and drove him to a motel where he would meet a prostitute. Then, while he was distracted, they were able to steal the keys from his pants, since he refused to be bribed.

The real murder of Billy Batts also involved James Burke rather than being impulsive violence from Tommy alone, and it was more premeditated in real life. In real life, James Burke had taken over the loan shark business while Batts was in prison. Once Batts got out of jail, James didn’t want to give up the business. The initial hit was planned to go down at Henry’s bar, The Suite. Rather than being shot, he was stabbed multiple times.

Goodfellas is not the only portrayal there has been of Jimmy “the Gent” Burke in pop culture, as he was also played by John Mahoney in the TV movie The 10 Million Dollar Getaway, Donald Sutherland in the TV movie The Big Heist, and has been featured in many documentaries and books. Jimmy Conway/James Burke was a dangerous man with a complicated life, and Goodfellas did a good job in relaying some of his peak moments, all through the eyes of one of the people closest to him.

  • Goodfellas

    Release Date:




    146 minutes



    The story of Henry Hill and his life in the mob, covering his relationship with his wife Karen Hill and his mob partners Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito in the Italian-American crime syndicate.

    $25 million



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