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Goodfellas: Whatever Happened To The Real-Life Jimmy Conway?

Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" is one of the most iconic mob movies of all time, telling the real-life story of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his rise and fall within the world of organized crime. One of the most important characters in the film is Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), an Irish mobster who recruits an adolescent Henry to help sell stolen cargo, and later becomes one of Henry's closest friends.

Near the end of the film, this lifelong friendship is thrown out of the window after Henry is arrested by the FBI, and Jimmy schemes to have him assassinated to protect his own interests. The film ends with Henry turning against the mob and informing on Jimmy Conway to the police, which resulted in Jimmy getting convicted and sentenced to prison. But whatever happened to the real-life Jimmy Conway after all of this went down?

The real-life counterpart to Jimmy Conway was James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke, who (like in the film) was sentenced to prison on the testimony of Henry Hill in 1982, specifically in relation to the Boston College point-shaving scandal (via Crime Museum). While serving 20 years for his involvement in that scandal he was later charged with a life sentence for the murder of Richard Eaton, and he died of lung cancer on April 13, 1996, without ever receiving parole.

The film is a fairly accurate depiction of James Burke's life, right up to his imprisonment

Although "Goodfellas" was released before the death of the real-life "Jimmy the Gent," the small afterward title card that follows the film's final shot does a decent job of summarizing the end of James Burke's life, explaining that he was (at the time) in the midst of a 20-years-to-life sentence in a New York State prison, and wouldn't be eligible for parole until 2004.

Despite being relatively accurate about what happened to the real-life Burke after the events of "Goodfellas," the film still doesn't paint a complete picture of Burke's life and story. Most notably, the film only ever references the Boston College point-shaving scandal in an offhand comment through Morrie Kessler (Chuck Low) before his assassination and never mentions the fact that it was the racket that finally landed Jimmy the Gent in prison.

The film also doesn't explore much about Burke's family, like the fact that his son was actually involved in the infamous Lufthansa Heist, or the long history of abuse that Burke suffered during his time in foster care. While these alterations certainly omit some of the more crucial parts of Burke's life story, it's worth noting that "Goodfellas" is primarily the story of Henry Hill and such detail shouldn't be expected for side characters like Jimmy Conway. 

Overall, the film is a fairly accurate portrayal of Burke's life right up to the point he was imprisoned, and the small afterward gives us a decent picture of what his life looked like after the events of the film.