Hyman Roth

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Hyman Roth
Hyman Roth
Lee Strasberg portraying Hyman Roth
First appearanceThe Godfather Part II
Last appearanceThe Godfather II (video game)
Created byMario Puzo
Portrayed byLee Strasberg
In-universe information
Nickname"Johnny Lips"
OccupationMob boss, casino-owner, financier, rum runner (formerly)
Marcia Roth
(m. 1950)
RelativesSam Roth (brother)

Hyman Roth (born Hyman Suchowsky) is a fictional character and the main antagonist in the 1974 film The Godfather Part II. He is also a minor character in the 2004 novel The Godfather Returns. Roth is a Jewish mobster, investor and a business partner of Vito Corleone, and later his son Michael Corleone. He is based on notorious mobster and gambling kingpin Meyer Lansky.[1][2][3][4] It was Al Pacino who suggested Lee Strasberg, his former acting teacher, for the role.[5]

Character overview[edit]

Roth's background is supplied in a deleted scene in The Godfather Part II. In this scene, set in Little Italy, New York in the early 1920s, he is working as a car mechanic. He is noticed by Peter Clemenza, who has been calling him "Johnny Lips". Clemenza introduces him to his friend Vito Corleone, who suggests that he change his name, which was originally Hyman Suchowsky. When Vito asks him whom he admires, Suchowsky says Arnold Rothstein, for having fixed the 1919 World Series; accordingly, he changes his last name to Roth.

Dialogue later in the film explains that Roth worked diligently with the Corleone family during Prohibition, helping them enter the bootlegging trade by setting up a molasses-smuggling operation between Havana and Canada. He was also a close friend and ally of fellow Jewish gangster Moe Greene, the "inventor" of Las Vegas. While Roth admits it would have been wrong to show anger and vengenace after Greene's death, as well as admitting that Greene pushed the limit too often, he is disappointed the famous city has nothing to remember him by. Frank Pentangeli later admits that while Vito Corleone had had a long history with Roth, to include doing business with the man, liking him, and respecting him, the elder Corleone never trusted Hyman Roth.

The Godfather Part II[edit]

By the timeline of this film, Roth is based in Miami. Though in poor health, he is extremely wealthy, having made a fortune by running his own organized crime outfit, assisted by his right-hand man, Sicilian Johnny Ola. Roth forms a partnership with Michael Corleone for a profitable business enterprise with the corrupt Cuban government of Fulgencio Batista and a number of major American corporations to take control of a casino in Reno. Roth secretly plans to assassinate Michael, partly to avenge Moe Greene's murder (as depicted in The Godfather). Roth instructs Ola to befriend Michael's brother Fredo, who provides Ola (and Roth) information about Michael that enables them to make an attempt on his life.

Michael quickly realizes that Roth perpetrated the murder plot. Remembering his father's advice to "keep enemies close", he maintains a good business relationship with Roth. Michael also suspects a mole within the Corleone family aided Roth, and needs time to uncover his identity.

On New Year's Eve 1958, the last night of Batista's rule, Michael orders Roth killed, confiding to Fredo that Roth will not see the New Year. Michael's bodyguard Busetta attempts to assassinate Roth, who has been recuperating in a hospital, by smothering him with a pillow. However, this assassination attempt is thwarted by Cuban soldiers who enter the hospital ward and open fire on Busetta, killing him instead. Moments later, Fidel Castro's army enters the city, overthrowing the Batista regime and further ruining Michael's plans, as well as those of Roth, who intended to pass ownership of his Cuban casinos to various Mafia heads, with Michael gaining control of the Capri.

Shortly after the Cuban fiasco, the U.S. Senate begins hearings on organized crime. To eliminate Michael as a competitor, Roth manipulates Corleone family caporegime Frank Pentangeli into testifying against Michael by having the Rosato brothers, two small-time hoods, attempt to kill Pentangeli. He survives and, believing Michael ordered the attack, agrees to testify against the Corleone family at a Senate hearing. The hearing is really a set piece arranged by Roth in hopes of removing Michael from the scene; the Senate committee's chief counsel is on Roth's payroll. As a counter-move, Michael has Pentangeli's brother, Vincenzo, flown in from Sicily to coerce Pentangeli into silence, thus destroying the government's case against Michael.

Roth is last seen at the Miami airport, where he publicly states that he wishes to retire and live in Israel under the Law of Return. His request (like that of the real-life Meyer Lansky) is rejected by the Israeli High Court, reportedly due to his criminal ties. Michael arranges to have Roth killed at the airport where he is about to be taken into U.S. federal custody. Minutes after disembarking the plane, he is fatally shot by Michael's caporegime Rocco Lampone, posing as a reporter. Rocco himself is killed by federal agents as he tries to escape.

Roth's quote "We're bigger than U.S. Steel", when boasting how much more successful organized crime is compared with this multinational, was based on a similar quote by gangster Meyer Lansky.[6]


  1. ^ "Who is "The Godfather: Part II" character Hyman Roth based on? | ScreenPrism". screenprism.com. Archived from the original on 1 June 2019. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Fact and Fiction in The Godfather". crimelibrary.com. Archived from the original on April 3, 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  3. ^ "The Godfather: Part II (1974) - IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  4. ^ Browne, Nick (2000). Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Trilogy. Cambridge University Press. p. 120. ISBN 9780521559508. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  5. ^ Phillips, Gene D. (2014). Gangsters and G-Men on Screen: Crime Cinema Then and Now. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 97. ISBN 9781442230767. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  6. ^ "The Managerial Mob".