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Don Michael Corleone is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novels, The Godfather and The Sicilian. He is also the main character of the film trilogy that was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, in which he was portrayed by Al Pacino. Corleone, as portrayed by Pacino, was ranked as the eighth greatest movie character of all time by Total Film Magazine, and was recognized as the 11th most iconic villain in film history by the American Film Institute.


Michael is the youngest son of Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando in The Godfather and Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II). He is the youngest brother of Sonny (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale), and the older brother of Connie (Talia Shire).

The Godfather

Michael Corleone's ascension to the head of the Corleone crime family is portrayed in Puzo's novel and the first film.

Michael initially wants nothing to do with the "family business", and is enrolled at Dartmouth Collegemarker in search of a more Americanized life. After the United States' entry into World War II and although he has a deferment, Michael enlists in the Marines against his father's wishes and fights in the Pacific Theatre. For his bravery, Michael is featured in Life magazine in 1944, having been awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. Michael is discharged as a Captain to recover from wounds in 1945. He later re-enters Dartmouth, where he meets his future wife, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton).

When his father is nearly assassinated in 1945, he volunteers to murder the man responsible, Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo (Al Lettieri). He also proposes to kill McCluskey (Sterling Hayden), a police captain who removed his father's bodyguards from the hospital, presumably to set up his father to be killed. Although it is normally a hard-and-fast rule in the Mafia that law enforcement officials are not to be harmed, Michael successfully convinces Sonny that since McCluskey is serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard, he has crossed into their world and is fair game.

After committing the murders, Michael flees to Sicily under the protection of Don Tommasino, a longtime friend of his father's, and stays in exile for over two years. While in Sicily, he marries a young woman named Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), but she is killed by a car bomb intended for Michael. Fabrizio, one of his bodyguards, was paid by a rival family to plant the bomb.

While in Sicily, he learns that Sonny had been murdered, and he returns to New York in 1950. There, he reluctantly becomes involved in his family's criminal enterprises, taking over for his deceased brother as operating head of the family under Vito's supervision. The family's consigliere, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), and one of the caporegimes, Peter Clemenza (Richard S. Castellano), are somewhat skeptical of his ability, but the other capo, Sal Tessio (Abe Vigoda), thinks somewhat more of him. He marries Kay not long afterwards, promising to make the family legitimate within five years.

Michael tries to buy a casino from Moe Greene (Alex Rocco) — the casino is partly owned "off the record" by the Corleone family. He intends to move his family to Nevadamarker. After his father's death in 1955, he becomes official Don of the Corleone crime family. Before his death, Vito had warned Michael that after he was gone, the rival Barzini family would make an attempt on his life under the pretense of organizing a meeting in order to make peace. After Tessio inadvertently reveals that he had conspired with Emilio Barzini (Richard Conte) against him, Michael arranges the murders of Barzini and Philip Tattaglia. In the film, he also kills the other two Mafia chiefs, Carmine Cuneo, and Victor Stracci. Also targeted are Greene, Tessio, and Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo), his brother-in-law, who plotted with Barzini to have Sonny killed. With this mass slaughter, Michael cements his reputation and restores the Corleone family as the most powerful crime family in the nation. He also gains a reputation for being even more ruthless than his father, despite his long-term goal of legitimacy.

When his sister Connie (Talia Shire) finds out that Michael had Carlo killed while he stood godfather to their baby, she flies into a rage. Michael dismisses it as hysteria, and when pressed by Kay, denies any involvement in the murder. Just minutes later, however, he meets with his capos, and Clemenza greets him as "Don Michael" ("Don Corleone" in the film). Unbeknownst to Michael, Kay is watching this meeting, and realizes that Connie was telling the truth after all — and that her husband has become the new Don Corleone.

Parallel story: The Sicilian (novel only)

Michael appears as a secondary character in Puzo's The Sicilian. During his two-year exile in Sicily, Michael is eager to return home to his family in New York, but is told by Clemenza that his father wants him to escort Salvatore "Turi" Guiliano safely back to America with him. As he learns more about Guiliano's reputation and exploits, Michael becomes extremely intrigued to meet him, but Giuliano is killed by the Italian police before the meeting can take place.

The Godfather Part II

By the time of The Godfather Part II (1958 to 1959), Michael has moved to shake off his family's Mafia roots. Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo), a longtime associate of his father's, has taken over the family's operations from the now-deceased Clemenza in New York.

His efforts at going legitimate prove unsuccessful, however, as his enemies — and his own arrogance — keep him involved in the underworld. He begins to work out a deal with business partner and rival Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg) over control of casino operations, but Roth manipulates Michael's brother Fredo (John Cazale) into unwittingly providing him with information used to arrange an attempt on Michael's life.

Michael and Roth travel to Cubamarker to forge a partnership with Fulgencio Batista's regime, allowing them to conduct their operations freely. In the midst of the revolution of 1959, Michael discovers that Fredo had helped Roth, and disowns him.

Meanwhile, Pentangeli turns informer after nearly being killed by a rival gang. He tells investigators about Michael's role in the murders of Sollozzo and McCluskey, and is prepared to testify to this before Congress as well. Rather than have Pentangeli killed, Michael flies his brother, Vincenzo, to attend the Congressional hearing. Vincenzo's gaze is enough to make Frank recant his previous statements. At Michael's behest, Hagen then persuades Pentangeli to commit suicide in return for his family's safety.

While in Washington, Kay, feeling that Michael will never break away from the underworld, decides to leave him and take Anthony and Mary with her. In the ensuing argument, Kay tells Michael that she aborted their child because she does not want to bring another one of his children into the world. Enraged, Michael strikes Kay and severs ties with her.

Michael orders Roth's assassination, to be carried out by Rocco Lampone (Tom Rosqui). While Roth is being escorted by federal agents in a Miami airport, Lampone poses as one of the many news reporters attempting to interview Roth and guns him down/

Following the death of their mother, Michael orders Fredo's murder, an act that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

The Godfather Part III

By the time of The Godfather Part III (1979 to 1980), Michael has taken great steps to legitimize the family; he is preparing to hand over his interests in gambling to the other Mafia families, setting up a charitable foundation, and is even being recognized by the Vatican for his good works. This new connection to the Church gives Michael the opportunity to purchase a controlling stake in the large property conglomerate, Immobiliare. He also begins to rekindle his relationship with Kay, as well as taking Sonny's illegitimate son, Vincent Corleone (Andy Garcia), under his wing. He finds himself pulled back into the underworld, however, when almost the entire Mafia Commission is wiped out by an assassin as Michael prepares to hand over his criminal interests. Vincent responds to this new threat against the Family with brutal violence, publicly gunning down Michael's rival, Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), who was thought to have ordered the hit on Michael. Vincent also begins a relationship with Michael's daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola), a romance Michael strongly disapproves of.

Even as he begins to break from the past, however, he is still wracked with guilt over his many crimes, especially having ordered Fredo's murder. In one scene, he makes his first confession in 30 years to Cardinal Lamberto (who later becomes Pope John Paul I), tearfully admitting his role in Fredo's death. He also calls out Fredo's name while having a diabetic stroke, and learns that his son Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio) knows the truth about Fredo's death, and resents Michael for it.

At the end of the film, weary of the bloody, lonely life of a Don, he 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 Italianmarker 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 wave of murders takes place as Michael watches Anthony perform in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana. That same night, however, Mary is inadvertently killed in an assassination attempt on Michael. A broken man, Michael retires to Sicily, where he dies years later of old age, sitting alone in a lawn chair in the courtyard where he married Apollonia.

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 rival, 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, but is neither voiced by nor modeled after Al Pacino in either game.

Family members


  1. AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains

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