Michael Corleone

Michael Corleone

Michael Corleone, as portrayed by Al Pacino in The Godfather.
First appearance The Godfather
Last appearance The Godfather's Revenge
Portrayed by Al Pacino
Nickname(s) Mike,
Aliases The Godfather, The Don, Don Corleone, Don Michael
Gender Male
Occupation Retired Mafia boss
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 the main protagonist of Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and the three Godfather films directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He was portrayed in the three films by Al Pacino, who was twice nominated for Academy Awards for the part.

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


Born in 1920, Michael is the youngest son of the 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 their informal adoptive brother.

The Godfather

Unlike his two older brothers, Michael shuns the Corleone "family business", wanting an ordinary, more Americanized life. (Vito does not want Michael to join the Corleone criminal empire either, preferring that his favorite son go into politics.) When the United States enters World War II in 1941, Michael drops out of Dartmouth College and enlists in the Marine Corps. During the war, he fights in the Pacific. He receives a battlefield commission to the rank of captain and is awarded the Navy Cross for bravery. In 1944, his war heroism is featured in Life magazine. He is discharged early in 1945 due to a disabling wound; unbeknownst to him, his father had arranged his release. He returns home to attend his sister Connie's wedding, accompanied by Kay Adams, his college sweetheart. Michael stays for a few weeks before re-entering college without consulting his family.

Just before Christmas 1945, Vito is severely wounded in an assassination attempt by drug kingpin Virgil Sollozzo, throwing Michael into the middle of the Mafia world he had for so long avoided. Michael reaffirms his loyalty at his father's bedside, then prevents Sollozzo's second attempt on Vito's life. Captain McCluskey, a corrupt NYPD officer on Sollozzo's payroll, breaks Michael's jaw. Knowing that his father's life is in danger while Sollozzo lives, Michael proposes that he murder Sollozzo and McCluskey. Sonny dismisses the idea, believing that killing McCluskey would invite police retribution; it is a hard and fast rule in the American Mafia that policemen are not to be harmed. However, Michael persuades him that McCluskey has crossed into their world by serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard, and is therefore fair game. A meeting between Sollozzo and Michael is arranged. At the restaurant, Michael retrieves a handgun that his father's caporegime Peter Clemenza had planted in the bathroom and kills Sollozzo and McCluskey.

Michael flees to Sicily and spends two years under the protection of Vito's longtime ally, Don Tommasino. While there, Michael marries a young local woman named Apollonia Vitelli. A few months later, Michael is notified that Sonny has been murdered. As he and Apollonia prepare to move to a safer villa in Syracusa, she is killed by a car bomb intended for Michael. Fabrizio, Michael's bodyguard, planted the bomb after being bought off by the Corleones' rivals.

Michael returns to the United States in early 1951[3] and assumes Sonny's role as Vito's heir apparent. He and his father plot to wipe out the other New York Dons, deliberately allowing them to whittle away at the Corleone interests in order to lull them into inaction. Meanwhile, Michael convinces his father the time is right to remove the family from the Mafia. More than a year after his return, Michael reunites with Kay and they marry. He promises her the Corleone family will be completely legitimate in five years. Within two years, they have two children, Anthony and Mary. In the novel, Kay gives birth to two sons.

Vito semi-retires in 1954, and Michael becomes operating head of the family. He attempts to buy out casino owner Moe Greene's stake in the Las Vegas casino that the Corleones bankrolled, intending to move the family to Nevada and legitimize all Corleone enterprises, but Greene refuses to sell. Before his death in 1955, Vito warns Michael that Emilio Barzini, head of a rival family, will likely attempt to assassinate Michael under the pretense of establishing peace between the families. Vito tells Michael that whoever approaches him about the meeting is the traitor within the family. When caporegime Salvatore Tessio unknowingly exposes his complicity with Barzini by arranging the meeting, Michael sets the plan in motion to murder the other New York Mafia heads: Barzini, Philip Tattaglia, Carmine Cuneo, and Victor Stracci, as well as Moe Greene. The plot unfolds on the same day Michael stands as godfather to Connie's newborn son. Later the same day, Tessio and Carlo Rizzi, Connie's abusive husband who conspired in Sonny's murder, are executed. In one stroke, Michael re-establishes the Corleone family as the nation's most powerful crime family, and makes a reputation for himself as being even more cunning and ruthless than his father.

Connie accuses Michael of murdering Carlo. Michael dismisses her accusations as hysteria, and, when questioned by Kay, denies any involvement. In the novel, Connie recants her accusations a few weeks later, assuring Kay she was mistaken. Kay, initially believing Michael, later observes him receiving his capos. Clemenza addresses Michael as "Don Corleone" and kisses his hand in the same manner that he did with Michael's father. Kay realizes Connie's accusations were true - and that Michael has become his father's successor in every way. In the novel, Kay briefly leaves Michael, but Hagen persuades her to return.

The Godfather Part II

In The Godfather Part II, set in 1958-1959, Michael is now in his late-30s. The Corleone family has relocated to Nevada while Frank Pentangeli runs the family's operations in New York, Clemenza having died a few years before. Although Michael is the most powerful Mafia leader in the nation, he still actively works to remove the Corleone family from crime. His efforts have been largely unsuccessful, however, as his many enemies and growing obsession with revenge keep him tethered to the criminal underworld. Michael plans to finally legitimize the family by negotiating with Hyman Roth, his father's former business partner, over controlling casino operations in Cuba.

Hours after Anthony's First Communion party, unseen gunmen shoot at the Corleone house, nearly killing Michael and Kay. Michael suspects Roth ordered the hit, and believes a mole within the Corleone family aided him. To uncover Roth's involvement, Michael maintains their business relationship, and orders Pentangeli to settle a dispute with Roth's business partners, the Rosato Brothers. When Pentangeli meets with them, they try to kill him, but he survives.

Michael, Roth, and Fredo travel to Cuba to forge a partnership with Fulgencio Batista allowing them to operate casinos in Cuba without interference in exchange for generous payments to the Cuban government. Michael sends his bodyguard to eliminate Roth on New Year's Eve, but Cuban soldiers kill the bodyguard during the attempt. That same night, Fredo unintentionally reveals that he was the mole within the family; Michael confronts Fredo and gives him the Sicilian "kiss of death". During the New Year's Eve festivities, victorious rebel forces enter Havana, forcing Batista into exile and ruining Michael's plans. Fredo, fearing Michael, runs off; Roth escapes to Miami.

Meanwhile, Pentangeli, believing Michael had ordered a hit on him, prepares to testify against him in the Senate's investigation of organized crime. However, Michael has Pentageli's brother Vincenzo brought from Sicily. Just prior to the hearing, Vincenzo and Frank exchange glances. Understanding the threat, Pentageli recants his earlier sworn statements, throwing the hearings into chaos and effectively destroying the government's case against Michael.

Fredo confesses to Michael that Roth's right-hand man, Johnny Ola, had promised to reward him for information about Michael. Fredo also reveals that he resented being "passed over" to head the family in favor of Michael, and that he withheld key information about the Senate investigation. Michael disowns Fredo, and tells his assassin Al Neri that nothing is to happen to his brother while their mother is alive the implication being Neri will execute Fredo after her death.

Meanwhile, Kay decides to leave Michael and take their children with her, believing Michael will always live in a world of crime and violence. Michael asks her to reconsider, but Kay reveals she aborted their unborn son because she refused to bring another child into the Corleone's crime world. Enraged, Michael strikes Kay and banishes her, preventing her from seeing their children.

Following their mother's death, and at sister Connie's behest, Michael seemingly forgives Fredo; soon after, however, Neri murders Fredo on Michael's orders. At the same time, Michael sends Hagen to persuade Pentangeli to commit suicide to spare his family, and has caporegime Rocco Lampone kill a heavily guarded Roth at Idlewild Airport upon his return to the U.S.

The film ends as Michael recalls a surprise birthday party for his father on December 7, 1941. In a flashback scene, Michael informs the family that he has dropped out of college to enlist in the Marines. Only Fredo supports Michael's decision. When Vito arrives off-screen, everyone goes to greet him except Michael, who sits alone. The film's final shot shows Michael sitting alone in the Corleone's Lake Tahoe compound.

The Godfather Part III

In The Godfather Part III, set in 1979-80, Michael (now in his late 50s) has moved back to New York and taken great strides to remove the family from crime. He turns over his New York criminal interests to longtime enforcer Joey Zasa. Ridden with guilt over his ruthless rise to power, he uses his wealth in an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation through numerous philanthropic acts, administered by a foundation named after his father. A decade earlier, he gave custody of his two children to Kay, who has since remarried. He sells his gambling interests to the other Mafia families and reorganizes his vast business holdings as the "Corleone Group".

The Holy See has named him a Commander of the Order of Saint Sebastian for his charitable works. Michael and Kay have an uneasy reunion after nine years. Kay wants their son, Anthony, to have nothing to do with the Corleone "legacy", and tells Michael that both she and Anthony know the truth about Fredo's death. Michael had initially wanted Anthony to finish law school or work for the family business, but consents to Anthony becoming an opera singer.

Michael's new connection to the Church provides an opportunity to take over the large property company, Immobiliare. He is already its largest shareholder, and offers to buy the Vatican's 25 percent share, 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 troubled by Vincent's impulsiveness and fiery temper, and opposes Vince's romance with his daughter, Mary. Michael fears that Vincent's growing involvement in the "family business" will endanger Mary, just as it did Michael's first wife, Appollonia.[4]

On the night Michael announces he is dissolving his gambling empire, Zasa wipes out most of The Commission in a helicopter attack in Atlantic City. Michael escapes with help from Vincent and Neri. Michael quickly realizes that his old friend, Don Altobello, conspired to murder him. Traumatized by the attack, Michael suffers a diabetic stroke, briefly incapacitating him. Francis Ford 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, his sister, Connie, gives Vincent her consent to assassinate Zasa. Michael is enraged upon discovering this, and demands that no similar orders be issued while he is alive.

Michael returns to Sicily for Anthony's operatic debut at the Teatro Massimo. Suspecting that Altobello may make another attempt on his life, he has Vincent infiltrate Altobello's regime under the pretense of defecting. Michael and Kay tour Sicily together, during which Michael asks for Kay's forgiveness. Kay admits she will always love him.

Meanwhile, the Immobiliare deal has stalled, supposedly because Pope Paul VI must personally approve it. Michael learns that the Immobiliare deal is an elaborate swindle concocted by Immobiliare chairman Licio Lucchesi, who schemed with Vatican Bank head Archbishop Gilday and accountant Frederick Keinszig to embezzle a fortune from the Vatican Bank, using Michael's "investment" to cover their tracks. Hoping to salvage the deal, Michael seeks Don Tommasino's assistance. He directs Michael to Cardinal Lamberto (the future Pope John Paul I). With Lamberto's prodding, Michael makes his first confession in 30 years, tearfully breaking down as he admits to ordering Fredo's murder. Lamberto tells Michael he deserves to suffer for his terrible sins, but that there is hope for redemption.

John Paul I dies soon after being elected pope, poisoned by Gilday. Michael learns that Altobello (in league with the conspirators) has hired an assassin named Mosca to kill him. Mosca murders Tommasino, and Michael vows before his old friend's casket to sin no more. Vincent reports that Lucchesi, working with Altobello, is behind the assassination attempts on Michael.

Weary of the bloody, lonely life of a Don, Michael retires, making Vincent his successor-but not before giving him permission to retaliate. In return, Vincent agrees to end his romance with Mary. That night, Michael, reconciled with Kay and Anthony, watches his son's performance in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana. Meanwhile, Vincent orchestrates the murders of Lucchesi, Gilday and Keinszig, and Connie murders Altobello with a poisoned cannoli.

After the performance, Mosca shoots Michael, but kills Mary instead. Her death breaks Michael's spirit, and he screams in agony over her body. He returns to Bagheria, Sicily, where he dies alone 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, and is eager to meet him, but Guiliano is murdered before the meeting can take place.

Sequel novels

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]

Family members


  1. AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains Archived October 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  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. 1 2 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
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