Michael Corleone

Michael Corleone

Michael Corleone
Michael Corleone, as portrayed by Al Pacino in The Godfather.
First appearance The Godfather
Last appearance The Godfather's Revenge
Created by Mario Puzo
Portrayed by Al Pacino
Nickname(s) Mike,
Aliases The Godfather, The Don, Don Corleone, Don Michael
Gender Male
Occupation Retired, formerly gangster
former marine
Title Don
Family Corleone family
Spouse(s) Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone (deceased; 1947-48)
Kay Adams (divorced; 1951-59)
Children Anthony Corleone
Mary Corleone
Relatives Vito Corleone (father)
Carmela Corleone (mother)
Sonny Corleone (brother)
Fredo Corleone (brother)
Tom Hagen (adopted brother)
Connie Corleone (sister)
Vincent Mancini-Corleone (nephew)
Deanna Dunn (sister-in-law)
Sandra Corleone (sister-in-law)
Carlo Rizzi (brother-in-law; deceased)
Religion Roman Catholic

Michael Corleone is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novels, The Godfather and The Sicilian. He is also the main character of the Godfather film trilogy that was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, in which he was portrayed by Al Pacino, who was twice nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal (Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather, and Best Actor for The Godfather Part II).

Corleone, as portrayed by Pacino, was recognized as the 11th most iconic villain in film history by the American Film Institute,[1] although some would consider Michael Corleone to be a tragic hero.[2]



Michael is the youngest son of Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando in The Godfather and Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II). He is the younger brother of Santino "Sonny" (James Caan) and Frederico "Fredo" (John Cazale), and the older brother of Constanzia "Connie" (Talia Shire).

The Godfather

Michael is introduced in The Godfather as a young man in his mid-20s. He initially wants nothing to do with the Corleones' "family business," hoping instead to lead a more conventional, Americanized life. Indeed, his father never intended for him to be involved in the family's criminal enterprises, instead hoping he would go into politics.[3] According to an early draft of the script, Vito expressly forbade the family from pulling Michael into its operations.[4]

As the story opens, we learn that he had enrolled at Dartmouth College in order to escape the Corleone legacy. After the United States enters World War II in 1941, he drops out to enlist in the Marine Corps and fights in the Pacific, despite his father's misgivings. Michael is awarded the Navy Cross for bravery and is featured in Life magazine in 1944. Michael is discharged as a captain in early 1945 to recover from his wounds. He reenters Dartmouth, where he meets his future wife, Kay Adams.

However, when his father is nearly assassinated by drug kingpin Virgil Sollozzo in late 1945, he is thrust back into the world he has avoided for so long. He reaffirms his loyalty at his father's bedside, then thwarts a second attempt on his father's life by Sollozzo and corrupt NYPD Captain McCluskey. Later, arguing that Sollozzo will likely take another run at Vito, he volunteers to kill both Sollozzo and McCluskey. Sonny, who is running the family in their father's absence, refuses at first; it has long been a hard and fast rule in the Mafia that policemen are not to be harmed. However, Michael convinces Sonny that since McCluskey is serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard, he has crossed into their world and is fair game. After caporegime Peter Clemenza plants a gun for him, Michael kills both men at a restaurant.

Following the murders, Michael flees to Sicily, where he lives for two years under the watch of family friend Don Tommasino. While there, he falls in love with and soon marries a beautiful young woman named Apollonia. A few weeks later, he learns that Sonny has been murdered. As he and Apollonia prepare to move to a villa in Siracusa, she is killed by a car bomb intended for Michael, planted by a corrupt bodyguard.

Michael returns to New York in the spring of 1951[4] and becomes fully involved in the family's criminal enterprises, taking Sonny's role as Vito's heir apparent. Soon after his return, he and his father make plans to wipe out the other New York Dons, deliberately allowing them to whittle away at the Corleone family's interests so they won't expect the blow when it comes. At the same time, he convinces his father that it is time to remove the family from the Mafia. About a year after he returns to the United States, he reunites with Kay and marries her, promising to make the family legitimate within five years. Within two years, they have two children, Anthony and Mary.

After his father goes into semi-retirement in 1954, Michael becomes operating head of the family. One of his first acts is to try to buy out casino owner Moe Greene's stake in the casino, intending to move his family to Nevada. Michael officially becomes Don after his father's death in 1955. Before his death, Vito had warned Michael that Emilio Barzini, head of a rival family, would make an attempt on Michael's life under the pretense of organizing a meeting to make peace between the two families. After caporegime Salvatore Tessio inadvertently reveals that he had conspired with Barzini against him, Michael decides to "settle all family business" on the day he stands godfather to Connie's son. He orders the murders of the leaders of the New York Mafia's other Dons: Barzini, Philip Tattaglia, Carmine Cuneo, and Victor Stracci, as well as Greene, Tessio, and Carlo Rizzi, his brother-in-law, who had earlier set Sonny up to be murdered. In one stroke, Michael reestablishes the Corleone family as the most powerful crime family in the nation, and makes a reputation for himself as being even more cunning and ruthless than his father.

When Connie finds out that Michael had Carlo killed while he stood godfather to their son, she flies into a rage. Michael dismisses this as hysteria, and when pressed by Kay, denies any involvement in the murder. Moments later, however, Michael meets with his capos, where Clemenza greets him as "Don Corleone" and kisses his hand much as he did with his father. Unbeknownst to Michael, Kay is watching this meeting. She realizes that Connie was telling the truth after all — and that her husband has become the new Don Corleone.

The Godfather Part II

In The Godfather Part II, set a few years after the move to Nevada, Michael is now in his late-30s. Frank Pentangeli, head of the former Clemenza crew, now runs the family's business in New York. Although Michael is now firmly established as the most powerful Mafia leader in the nation, he is still determined to make the family legitimate. His efforts at redeeming the family have been largely unsuccessful, however, because his many enemies (and his own growing obsession with revenge) have kept him involved in the criminal underworld. He has begun to work out a deal with Hyman Roth, his father's former business partner, over control of casino operations. However, Roth manipulates Michael's brother Fredo into unwittingly providing him with information that is used to arrange an attempt on Michael's life. Roth also attempts to murder Pentangeli while convincing the capo that Michael was to blame. Michael concludes on his own that Roth was behind the assassination attempt, but suspects that he had help from a mole in the Corleone family. He decides to make Roth think they still have a good business relationship but only as a ploy to find out who Roth paid to set up the hit.

Michael, Fredo and Roth travel to Cuba to forge a partnership with Fulgencio Batista that will allow them to be free to conduct their operations in Cuba without interference from the authorities, in return for generous payments to the Cuban government. While in Cuba, Michael sends his bodyguard to eliminate Roth on New Year's Eve, but the bodyguard is killed by soldiers in the midst of the attempt. That night, Michael discovers that Fredo had conspired with Roth, and informs him of this fact at the stroke of midnight. During the New Year's Eve festivities, victorious rebel forces enter Havana, forcing Batista into exile and the crime bosses out of the country, their plans in Cuba ruined. Fredo, afraid of his brother, refuses to flee back to America with Michael. Roth, meanwhile, escapes to Miami.

Meanwhile, Pentangeli had been persuaded to testify against Michael in the Senate's investigation of organized crime, which could potentially send Michael to prison. However, Michael arranges for Pentageli's brother Vincenzo to travel from Sicily to attend the hearings. Vincenzo and Frank exchange a glance just before the hearing comes to order. Understanding the threat, Pentageli renounces his earlier sworn statements, throwing the hearings into chaos and effectively ending the government's case against Michael.

Michael meets with Fredo, who reveals that Roth's right-hand man, Johnny Ola, had promised to make him rich independently of the family if he informed on Michael, and that he withheld key information about the Senate investigation. He also reveals that he has always resented his brother, and feels he should have taken over the family after their father's death. Michael disowns Fredo, and tells bodyguard Al Neri that nothing is to happen to his brother while their mother is alive—the implication being that once she dies, Neri is to murder Fredo.

By now, Kay is convinced that Michael will always live in a world of crime and violence, and decides to leave him and take the children with her. Michael begs her to reconsider, but Kay reveals that what she had initially told Michael was a miscarriage was in fact an abortion; she tells Michael that she does not want to risk bringing another son into Michael's criminal world. Michael flies into a rage, hits Kay in the face and banishes her from the family; they divorce later that year, with Michael keeping custody of the children.

Following the death of their mother, and at the behest of his sister Connie, Michael appears to reconcile with his brother. It is only a ploy to draw him in, however; soon afterward, Neri murders Fredo on Michael's orders. This act would haunt Michael for the rest of his life, and further alienates him from Kay and his son Anthony, who both know what really happened.

At the same time, Michael sends Hagen to convince Pentageli to commit suicide in order to spare revenge against the rest of his family, and sends capo Rocco Lampone to kill a heavily-guarded Roth at John F. Kennedy International Airport upon his return to the U.S.

The film ends with Michael's recollections of a surprise birthday party for his father on December 7, 1941. Prior to his father's arrival, Michael told the family that he had dropped out of college and enlisted in the Marines. Fredo had been the only one in the family to support the decision. When Vito arrives off-screen, everyone leaves the table to greet him except for Michael, who sits by himself. The parting shot in the film is of Michael sitting outdoors at the Corleone Lake Tahoe compound, alone.

The Godfather Part III

In The Godfather Part III, set in 1979-80, Michael, now in his 60s, has moved back to New York and taken great steps to make the family legitimate. He has turned over control of his New York criminal interests to longtime enforcer Joey Zasa, sold his gambling interests to the other Mafia families and reorganized his vast business holdings as the "Corleone Group." Wracked with guilt over his ruthless rise to power, he is using his wealth to restore his reputation through numerous acts of charity. The Vatican has named him a Commander of the Order of Saint Sebastian for his good works.

His new connection to the Church gives Michael the opportunity to purchase a controlling stake in the large property company, Immobiliare. He is already the company's largest shareholder, and offers to buy the Vatican's 25 percent share of the company, which will give him controlling interest. He also takes Sonny's illegitimate son Vincent Mancini as his protegé. The relationship is not without friction, however. Michael is deeply troubled by Vincent's fiery temper (inherited from his father), but even moreso by his romance with Michael's daughter Mary. Remembering how he lost Apollonia over 30 years earlier, Michael fears Vincent's growing involvement in the "family business" will put Mary in danger.[5]

On the night Michael announces that he dissolving his gambling empire, Zasa wipes out most of The Commission in an elaborate helicopter attack in Atlantic City; Michael escapes with Vincent's help. Michael quickly realizes that his longtime friend, Don Altobello, was actually in on the conspiracy to kill him. Traumatized by the attack, Michael has a diabetic stroke, leaving him briefly incapacitated. Coppola reveals in his audio commentary that Michael was seen drinking a lot of water in the first two films--subtle hints that he was a diabetic.[5] In his absence, Connie gives Vincent and Neri the go-ahead to kill Zasa.

Michael later returns to Sicily to watch Anthony perform at the Teatro Massimo. Suspecting that Altobello might try to make another attempt on his life, he has Vincent go to Altobello and pretend to defect. He takes Kay on a tour of Sicily, during which he begs her forgiveness. Kay admits that she still loves Michael and always will, and the two begin to rekindle their relationship.

At the same time, the Immobiliare deal stalls, supposedly because Pope Paul VI himself must sign off on it. Michael eventually learns that the Immobiliare deal is actually an elaborate swindle concocted by Immobiliare chairman Licio Lucchesi, who has schemed with Vatican Bank head Archbishop Gilday and accountant Frederick Keinszig to steal a fortune from the Vatican Bank and use Michael's "investment" to cover their tracks. Hoping to salvage the deal, Michael seeks the assistance of Don Tommasino, who directs him to Cardinal Lamberto (the future Pope John Paul I), to whom Michael makes his first confession in 30 years, breaking down in tears when admitting that he ordered Fredo's murder. Lamberto tells Michael that it is just that he suffers for his terrible sins, but that he still has a chance for redemption. Michael soon becomes aware of an assassin, Mosca, whom Altobello, in league with the plotters, had hired to kill him. Mosca kills Tommasino, and Michael vows before his old friend's coffin to sin no more.

Vincent reports that Lucchesi is behind the attempts on Michael's life, working hand in glove with Altobello. Vincent insists on striking back. Weary of the bloody, lonely life of a Don, Michael retires and makes his nephew the new head of the family, on condition that he end the relationship with Mary. That night, Michael, reconciled with Kay and Anthony, watches his son perform in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana. At the same time, Vincent, with Michael's tacit blessing, wipes out Lucchesi, Gilday and Keinszig in a bloody wave of murders. That same night, however, Mosca inadvertently kills Mary in an assassination attempt on her father. Mary's death breaks Michael's spirit, and he cries out in agony over her corpse. He retires to Sicily, where he dies years later, completely alone. (According to a timeline graphic included in a The Godfather DVD box set, Michael Corleone's death occurs in 1997.)

The Sicilian

Michael is a secondary character in Puzo's novel The Sicilian, which takes place during his first exile in Sicily. He learns from Clemenza about the legendary exploits of the novel's main character, Salvatore Guiliano (based on Salvatore Giuliano, but Puzo changed his name), and is eager to meet him, but Guiliano is murdered before the meeting can take place.

Sequel novels and video game

Michael appears in Mark Winegardner's sequel novels The Godfather Returns and The Godfather's Revenge. In Godfather Returns, set roughly during the time of Godfather Part II, Michael battles with a new rival, Nick Geraci, while attempting to legitimize the family. In Godfather's Revenge, set just after the second film, he moves to protect his criminal empire against a powerful political family, while dealing with his guilt over having Fredo killed.

He appears in The Godfather: The Game and The Godfather II, but is neither voiced by nor modeled after Al Pacino in either game.

Family members


  1. ^ AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains
  2. ^ The Godfather Movie Review by Anthony Leong
  3. ^ The Godfather transcript VITO CORLEONE (as he stands): I knew that Santino was going to have to go through all this. And Fredo -- well -- (then, after he sits besides Michael)-- Fredo was -- well ... But I never -- I never wanted this for you. I work my whole life, I don't apologize, to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on the string, held by all those bigshots. I don't apologize -- that's my life -- but I thought that ... that when it was your time -- that -- that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone ... Governor Corleone ... or something...
  4. ^ a b Puzo, Mario and Coppola, Francis Ford. (1971, 29 March). THE GODFATHER, The Internet Movie Script Database
  5. ^ a b The Godfather Part III DVD commentary featuring Francis Ford Coppola, [2005]

External links

Preceded by
Vito Corleone
Head of the Corleone crime family
The Godfather

ca. 1955 - 1958
Succeeded by
Tom Hagen (Interim)
Preceded by
Tom Hagen (Interim)
Head of the Corleone crime family
The Godfather

ca. 1959 - 1980
Succeeded by
Vincent Mancini-Corleone

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