Michael Corleone

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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
Voiced by Joseph May
Nickname(s) Mike,
Aliases The Godfather, The Don, Don Corleone, Don Michael
Gender Male
Occupation Retired Mafia boss
Former United States Marine
Title Don Corleone
Family Corleone family
Spouse(s) Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone (deceased; 1947-48)
Kay Adams (divorced; 1951-60)
Children Anthony Corleone
Mary Corleone
Relatives Vincent Corleone (nephew)
Deanna Dunn (sister-in-law)
Sandra Corleone (sister-in-law)
Carlo Rizzi (brother-in-law)
Religion Roman Catholic
Father Vito Corleone
Mother Carmela Corleone
Brother Sonny Corleone
Fredo Corleone
Tom Hagen (adopted brother)
Sister Connie Corleone

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).

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


Born in 1920, Michael is the youngest son of Mafia Don Vito Corleone and his wife, Carmela. He has two older brothers, Santino "Sonny" Corleone and Frederico "Fredo" Corleone and a younger sister, Constanzia "Connie" Corleone. The family consigliere, Tom Hagen, is Michael's informal adoptive brother.

The Godfather[edit]

In contrast with his brothers, Michael wants nothing to do with the Corleone "family business", wanting instead to lead an honest, more Americanized life. Vito does not want Michael to be involved in the Mafia, either, hoping instead that his favorite son will enter politics, further enhancing his political influence.

When the United States enters World War II in 1941, Michael drops out of Dartmouth College and enlists in the Marine Corps, and fights in the Pacific War. During the war, Michael receives a battlefield commission to the rank of Captain and is awarded the Navy Cross for bravery. In 1944, his picture is printed in Life magazine with a photo layout of his heroism. He is discharged early in 1945 to recover from a disabling wound; unbeknownst to him, his father had arranged his release. He returns to attend his sister, Connie's wedding with his girlfriend, Kay Adams, a former classmate. Michael stays home for a few weeks, then, without consulting his family, reenters Dartmouth, and so leaves his father's house.

When his father is nearly assassinated by drug kingpin Virgil Sollozzo just before Christmas 1945, Michael is thrust 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, who breaks his jaw. 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 targeted. However, Michael convinces Sonny that since McCluskey is a corrupt police officer serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard, he has crossed into their world and is fair game. By Michael's plan, caporegime Peter Clemenza plants a gun for him at a restaurant, which Michael retrieves and shoots both Sollozzo and McCluskey.

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 marries a young woman named Apollonia Vitelli. A few months later, Michael 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 his corrupt bodyguard, Fabrizio. True to the Sicilian tradition of "vendetta", in The Godfather Part II Michael eventually tracks Fabrizio down and has him killed.

Michael returns to the United States in the spring of 1951[3] and takes Sonny's role as Vito's heir apparent. He and his father plan to wipe out the other New York Dons, deliberately allowing them to whittle away at the Corleone family's interests so that they will not 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. Then, more than a year after his return, he reunites with Kay and, promising to make the family legitimate within five years, marries her. 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 (which the Corleone family bankrolled), intending to move his family to Nevada and legitimize the Corleone name. Before his death, in 1955, Vito warns Michael that Emilio Barzini, head of a rival family, will 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 families: Barzini, Philip Tattaglia, Carmine Cuneo, and Victor Stracci, as well as Greene, Tessio, and Carlo Rizzi, Connie's abusive husband (who had earlier set Sonny up to be murdered). In the film, the scene rotates quickly between the murders of the mob bosses and Greene, and Michael's participation in his nephew's baptism, all of which are occurring simultaneously. Rizzi and Tessio are murdered later the same day. In one stroke, Michael reestablishes the Corleone family as the most powerful crime family in the nation and establishes a reputation as being even more cunning and ruthless than his father.

When Connie learns about her husband's death, she flies into a rage and accuses Michael of killing him. Michael dismisses her accusations as hysteria, and when pressed by Kay, denies any involvement in the murder. Moments later, Michael meets with his capos, where Clemenza greets him as "Don Corleone" and kisses his hand much as he did with his father.

The Godfather Part II[edit]

In The Godfather Part II, set in 1958-1959, Michael is now in his late-30s. Frank Pentangeli now runs the family's business in New York, Clemenza having died a few years before. 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 in Cuba.

The night of his son Anthony's First Communion, an attempt is made on Michael's life. Michael eventually concludes 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 as a ploy to find out who Roth paid to set up the hit. As part of this subterfuge, he orders Pentangeli to settle a dispute with Roth's business partners, the Rosato Brothers. When Pentangeli meets with the Rosato Brothers, they try to kill him, but he survives the attack.

Meanwhile, Michael, Roth and Michael's brother Fredo 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 during the attempt. That night, Michael discovers that Fredo is the traitor within the family, 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 manages to escape to Miami.

Meanwhile, Pentangeli, who believes that Michael ordered his death, is set to testify against Michael in the Senate's investigation of organized crime. 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 recants his earlier sworn statements, throwing the hearings into chaos and effectively destroying 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 resents having been "stepped over" in favor of his brother; he feels that 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.

Kay finally accepts that Michael will always live in a world of crime and violence, and decides to leave him and take the children with her. Michael asks her to reconsider, but Kay reveals that what she had initially told Michael was a miscarriage was, in fact, an abortion. 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 Fredo. It is only a ploy to draw him in, however; soon afterward, Neri murders Fredo on Michael's orders. At the same time, Michael sends Hagen to convince Pentangeli to commit suicide in order to spare 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. In the flashback, Michael informs the family that he has dropped out of college and enlisted in the Marines. Fredo is 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 in the courtyard of the Corleone's Lake Tahoe compound, alone.

The Godfather Part III[edit]

In The Godfather Part III, set in 1979-80, Michael (now in his late 50s) has moved back to New York and gone to great lengths to remove the family from crime. He has turned over control of his New York criminal interests to longtime enforcer Joey Zasa. To appease The Vatican, he has 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, administered by a foundation named after his father, Vito. A decade earlier, he turned over custody of his children to Kay.

The Holy See has named him a Commander of the Order of Saint Sebastian for his good works. That same day, he has an uneasy reunion with Kay after nine years. Kay tells him that she doesn't want Anthony to have anything to do with the Corleone "legacy", and that both she and Anthony know the truth about Fredo's death. Michael agrees to allow Anthony to pursue a career as an opera singer and will not insist he join the family business.

Michael's new connection to the Church gives him the opportunity to take over 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 in Sonny's illegitimate son Vincent Mancini, a soldier in Zasa's crew, as his protegé.

Michael is deeply troubled by Vincent's impulsiveness and fiery temper, but even more so by his romance with Michael's daughter Mary. Seeing parallels with how Apollonia was killed three decades previously in order to get at him, Michael fears Vincent's growing involvement in the "family business" will put Mary in danger.[4]

On the night Michael announces that he is dissolving his gambling empire, Zasa wipes out most of The Commission in a helicopter attack in Atlantic City. Michael escapes with Vincent's help. Michael quickly realizes that his old friend, Don Altobello, was part of 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 is seen drinking a lot of water in the first two films—subtle hints that he is a diabetic[4]). While Michael recovers, Connie gives Vincent the go-ahead to assassinate Zasa. Michael is enraged when he learns of this, and demands that no orders of that nature ever be issued again while he is alive.

Michael later returns to Sicily to watch Anthony make his operatic debut at the Teatro Massimo. Suspecting that Altobello might try to make another attempt on his life, he has Vincent go to Altobello and infiltrate his regime under the pretense of defecting. He then takes Kay on a tour of Sicily, during which he asks her forgiveness. Kay says that she still loves him, and always will.

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). With Lamberto's prodding, Michael makes his first confession in 30 years, breaking down in tears while 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.

Soon after his election as pope, John Paul I dies, poisoned by Gilday. 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. Weary of the bloody, lonely life of a Don, Michael not only gives Vincent permission to strike back, but retires and makes Vincent his successor. In return, Vincent agrees to end his relationship with Mary.

That night, Michael, reconciled with Kay and Anthony, watches his son perform in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana. Meanwhile, Vincent orchestrates the murders of Lucchesi, Gilday and Keinszig. Connie, meanwhile, murders Altobello by giving him a poisoned cannoli.

At the end of the performance, Mosca shoots Michael, wounding him; the bullet passes through him and hits Mary, killing her. Mary's death breaks Michael's spirit, and he cries out in agony over her corpse. He returns to Bagheria, Sicily, where he dies years later, alone in the courtyard where he married Apollonia.

The Sicilian[edit]

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, and is eager to meet him, but Guiliano is murdered before the meeting can take place.

Sequel novels and video game[edit]

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.[5] In Godfather's Revenge, set a few years after the second film, he moves to protect his criminal empire against Geraci and the machinations of a powerful political dynasty, while dealing with his guilt over having Fredo murdered. In the latter novel, he has a relationship with actress Marguerite "Rita" Duvall in the early 1960s, but he ends it upon realizing that he is still in love with Kay.[6]

He is featured in The Godfather: The Game and the video game adaptation of The Godfather II, but the character is neither voiced by nor modeled after Al Pacino.

Family members[edit]


  1. ^ AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains[dead link]
  2. ^ "The Godfather Movie Review by Anthony Leong". Mediacircus.net. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  3. ^ Puzo, Mario and Coppola, Francis Ford. (1971, 29 March). THE GODFATHER, The Internet Movie Script Database
  4. ^ a b The Godfather Part III DVD commentary featuring Francis Ford Coppola, [2005]
  5. ^ http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/godfather-returns-mark-winegardner/1100393913?ean=9780345478986 Accessed on June 27, 2014
  6. ^ http://www.amazon.com/The-Godfathers-Revenge-Mark-Winegardner/dp/0399153845 Amazon.com Accessed on June 27, 2014


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 Corleone