Some viewers may watch the new Martin Scorsese film “The Irishman,” and at first glance jump when they see the sociopath Todd from the “Breaking Bad” series playing one of Jimmy Hoffa’s children. Yes, actor Jesse Plemons plays the character of Charles “Chuckie” O’Brien, Hoffa’s foster son in the movie — and the real person he's based upon has been a controversial and influential persona for decades.
"The Irishman" follows the disappearance of Hoffa, an influential union leader and mob associate, who infamously vanished in 1975, which so-called mob hitman Frank Sheeran later claimed credit for (although it's never been proven).
Hoffa vanished not long after getting into a car at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, Michigan on July 30. The FBI, as reported on by the Chicago Tribune in 1985, listed mob associates Anthony Provenzano, Anthony Giacalone, Russell Bufalino, Salvatore Briguglio — along with O`Brien — as the key suspects. Nobody was ever convicted, but the suspicions have long cast shadows over O’Brien’s life.
O’Brien was initially a close boyhood friend of Hoffa’s biological son James Hoffa, but when his father died at age 6, Hoffa took the Irish child in as one of his own, according to a New York Post article from 2001. However, that slightly conflicts with O’Brien’s step-son, who claims that O'Brien started getting close to Hoffa at age 9 after his mother, who helped facilitate Hoffa's mob connections, introduced the pair, according to National Public Radio.
Either way, he eventually became known as his foster son, according to Charles Brandt’s 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” which served as a basis for the film “The Irishman.”
Before Hoffa vanished, O’Brien actually inspired a key player in another iconic mafia film: “The Godfather.” Mario Puzo’s 1969 book “The Godfather” and the subsequent 1972 movie both featured a character called Tom Hagen, an Irish orphan adopted by Don Corleone, just like he essentially was by Hoffa. In the film, Hagen is both a lawyer and the consigliere for the family.
However, “I Heard You Paint House” suggests that O’Brien might have been played for a fool by the mob. In the film, O’Brien does technically help lure his adoptive father into a car which ultimately leads to him being shot in the head, but it's unclear if O’Brien was unaware of the violence that was about to come.
“Chuckie was an innocent bystander,”Sheeran claimed, according to “I Heard You Paint Houses.”
O’Brien was the driver of the maroon Mercury Hoffa was last seen in, but he has repeatedly denied that Hoffa was ever in the Mercury, according to 2001 archived UPI article. He had reportedly borrowed the car from the son of mob boss Anthony Giacalone, one of the main suspects in his disappearance, according to the Chicago Tribune in 1985.
The movie also takes on one of the more damning pieces of rumored evidence that stoked suspicions that he had something to do with Hoffa’s vanishing: that O’Brien had the Mercury cleaned out shortly after Hoffa disappeared. O'Brien said back then it was because he was delivering fish to a Teamsters leader's home and it leaked into the backseat, according to the UPI report.
The movie rendition follows this rumored series of events as the mob associates are immediately disgusted with the smell of the car when they got in. The movie leaves it up to viewer interpretation whether or not O’Brien knows his foster dad is about to be killed. He drives Hoffa to a house where Sheeran shoots him twice in the back of the head.
However, Sheeran believes, according to "I Heard You Paint Houses," that O'Brien didn't know his dad would be killed.
“I always felt sorry for Chuckie O’Brien in this whole thing and I still do,” Sheeran told Brandt.
Hoffa's daughter Barbara Crancer believes that her foster brother did have something to do with Hoffa’s death, according to UPI.
O’Brien’s own adopted son, whom O’Brien adopted when he was 13, Jack Goldsmith, recently wrote in The Atlantic that growing up (post-Hoffa disappearance) he allegedly met many of O’Brien’s mafia associates. That being said, Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who served as an assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, concludes that he thinks his father didn’t have anything to do with Hoffa’s disappearance.
He has written a new memoir about the topic,"In Hoffa's Shadow: A Stepfather, a Disappearance in Detroit, and My Search for the Truth" about his investigation into O’Brien’s alleged role in Hoffa's disappearance.
“He was an amazing guy,” Goldsmith recently told National Public Radio, adding, “He had a very firm sense of right and wrong, and he taught us right from wrong in a way that had a huge impact on my life. The main thing I can say about him was that, despite all of his troubles, he spent all of his time, every second of his free time devoted to me and my two brothers and just everything we did.”
While the true details of what happened during Hoffa’s disappearance have yet to be uncovered, O’Brien’s controversial character lives on in “The Irishman” and "The Godfather."
The film hit limited theaters November 1 and then Netflix on Nov. 27.
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