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|“||If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.||„|
|~ Michael Corleone|
|“||Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.||„|
|~ Michael Corleone, one of the most famous movie quotes of all time.|
Michael Corleone was the main protagonist in Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and a secondary protagonist in The Sicilian. He was also the main protagonist of The Godfather film trilogy that was directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
As first seen in The Godfather Michael is a young man in his mid-20s. He initially wants nothing to do with the family business. Michael enrolls at Dartmouth College in order to escape the Corleone legacy. After the United States enters World War II in 1941, Michael drops out to enlist in the Marine Corps and fights in the Pacific, despite his father's misgivings. Michael is wounded in battle, but 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, and has dreams of leading a more normal, Americanized life away from his family. However, when his father is nearly assassinated in late 1945, he is thrust back into the world he has avoided for so long. Reaffirming his loyalty at his father's bedside Michael volunteers to kill both the men responsible: the drug kingpin Virgil Sollozzo and corrupt police captain Mark McCluskey. Sonny, who is running the family in their father's absence, is impressed by Michael's loyalty, but doubts that his "nice college boy" brother has it in him to commit murder. He also has misgivings about killing a cop; it has long been a rule in the Mafia that policemen are not to be harmed. However, Michael argues that since McCluskey is serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard, he is fair game. Sonny agrees, and 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 marries a beautiful young woman named Apollonia. However, she is killed by a car bomb intended for Michael, planted by a corrupt bodyguard.
While in Sicily, Michael learns that Sonny has been murdered. Michael returns to New York around 1950 and becomes fully involved in the family's criminal enterprises, taking over Sonny's role as Vito's heir apparent. A year later, he rekindles his relationship with Kay and marries her, promising her that the Corleone family would be legitimate within five years. Michael tries to buy out casino owner Moe Greene's stake in the casino, intending to move the family to Nevada, but Greene refuses.
After his father goes into semi-retirement in 1954, Michael becomes operating head of the family, officially becoming Don after his father's death in 1955. Before his death, Vito warns Michael that the head of a rival family would make an attempt on Michael's life under the pretense of organizing a peace summit between the two families. At the funeral, Vito's caporegime Salvatore Tessio inadvertently reveals that he had conspired with rival Don Emilio Barzini against him.
Michael arranges the murders of the leaders of the New York Mafia's other ruling families Dons: Barzini, Phillip Tattaglia, Carmine Cuneo, and Victor Stracci, as well as Moe Greene. During the baptism of Connie's child, these men were all killed by Corleone associates. Tessio and Carlo Rizzi, his brother-in-law - who had earlier set Sonny up to be murdered - are eliminated a short time later. 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, she flies into a rage. When Kay asks him about it, Michael denies any involvement in the murder. Moments later, however, Michael meets with his capos, where Peter Clemenza greets him as "Don Corleone" and kisses his hand much as he did with his father. Kay realizes that Connie was telling the truth after all, 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 and fully established as the head of the Corleone empire. Frank Pentangeli, head of the former Clemenza regime, now runs the family's business in New York. Michael's efforts at redeeming the family have been largely unsuccessful, however, because his many enemies and his growing obsession with revenge have kept him involved in the criminal underworld. Michael begins working out a deal with business partner and rival Hyman Roth over control of casino operations. However, Roth manipulates Michael's brother Fredo into providing him with information that he uses to arrange an attempt on Michael's life. Roth also attempts to murder Pentangeli while convincing the capo that Michael was to blame.
Michael, Fredo and Roth travel to Cuba under Fulgencio Batista to forge a partnership with the Cuban government that will allow them to be free to conduct their operations in Cuba without interference from the authorities, in return for generous payments to Batista. While in Cuba, Michael sends his bodyguard to eliminate Roth on New Year's Eve, but the plan fails because the old man is hospitalized. That night, Michael discovers that Fredo had conspired with Roth. During the New Year's Eve festivities, Fidel Castro's 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, runs away into the crowd. Roth, meanwhile, flees to Miami.
Back in the U.S., 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. Fredo 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 is that, once she dies, Neri is to murder Fredo.
Meanwhile, Pentangeli has been persuaded 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. Seeing his brother in the hearing room and understanding the threat, Pentageli renounces his earlier sworn statements, throwing the hearings into chaos and effectively ending the government's case against Michael.
Meanwhile, Kay realizes 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 an un-mollified Kay reveals that what she had initially told Michael was a miscarriage was in fact an abortion; she tells Michael that she doesn't want to bring another of his children into the world. Enraged, Michael hits Kay in the face and banishes her from the family; they divorce later that year, with Michael keeping custody of the children. He would later give up custody of the children to Kay after realizing it would be best for them.
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. At the same time, Michael sends Tom Hagen to convince Pentageli to commit suicide in order to spare revenge against the rest of his family, and sends bodyguard Rocco Lampone to kill a heavily-guarded Roth at Miami International Airport upon his return to the U.S.
The Godfather Part III
In The Godfather Part III, set in 1979-80, an aging Michael has taken great steps to make the family legitimate, preparing to hand over his interests in gambling to the other Mafia families, setting up a charitable foundation, and even being recognized by the Vatican for his good works. After the ceremony, he has an uneasy reunion with Kay, who tells him that their son Anthony knows the truth about Fredo's death.
This new connection to the Church gives Michael the opportunity to purchase a controlling stake in the large property company, Immobiliare. He also begins to rekindle his relationship with Kay, and begins grooming Sonny's illegitimate son Vincent Mancini as the new head of the family business. The relationship is not without friction, however; Michael is deeply troubled by his beloved daughter Mary's romance with Vincent, fearing that it will put her in danger.
On the night Michael announces that he is dissolving his gambling empire, one of his enforcers, Joey Zasa, wipes out most of The Commission in an elaborate helicopter attack in Atlantic City; Michael and his old friend Don Altobello escape with Vincent's help. Traumatized by the attack, Michael has a diabetic stroke, leaving him briefly incapacitated; in his absence, Connie gives Vincent and Neri the go-ahead to kill Zasa.
Michael soon discovers that Immobiliare, specifically the wily Licio Lucchesi and the scheming Archbishop Gilday, are out to fleece him, and he seeks the assistance of Don Tommasino. Tommasino 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 later returns to Sicily to watch Anthony perform at the Teatro Massimo. However, he 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.
Soon afterward, 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. Realizing that powerful interests in Italian politics and business are working to prevent the family's takeover of Immobiliare, Michael, with Vincent's assistance, once again prepares to move against his enemies. This bloody wave of murders takes place as Michael, reconciled with Kay and Anthony, watches his son perform in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana. 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.)
Michael is a secondary character in Puzo's novel The Sicilian, which takes place during his 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. For copyright reasons, Michael was left out of the film adaptation of the novel.
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 enemy, traitorous Corleone capo 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
- Michael Corleone was portrayed by Al Pacino, who was twice nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Michael. (Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather, and Best Actor for The Godfather Part II). Pacino also portrayed John Milton in The Devil's Advocate, Big Boy in Dick Tracy, David Fisk in Righteous Kill, and Tony Montana in Scarface.
- Corleone was recognized as the 11th most iconic villain in film history by the American Film Institute. Some critics considered Michael Corleone to be a tragic hero.