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Michael, we're bigger than U.S. Steel!
~ Hyman Roth
This is the business we have chosen.
~ Hyman Roth
Hyman Roth, born Hyman Suchowsky, is the main antagonist of the movie The Godfather Part II. He was an investor and business partner of Vito Corleone and his son Michael.
He was portrayed by the late Lee Strasberg.
Roth was working as a car mechanic in the 1920s when Peter Clemenza introduced him to Vito. While Clemenza wanted to give him the nickname Johnny Lips, Vito suggested Vito change his name after someone he admired. Roth told Vito that he admired Arnold Rothstein for fixing the World Series, and Vito suggested going forward he go by the name Hyman Roth.
Roth worked with the Corleone Family during prohibition, smuggling molasses out of Cuba. Frank Pentangeli later suggested that while Vito worked closely with Roth, he and the others in his family never fully trusted Roth.
In the late 1950s Roth lived in Florida, for all intents and purposes appearing as an older middle class retired Jewish gentlemen. However Roth was actually a multimillionaire and powerful crime boss.
Roth had been allied with a young man named Moe Greene, who helped develop Las Vegas into a major gambling and entertainment destination. Greene was a hotheaded young man who often shot his mouth off. One day Greene wound up getting shot through the eye.
Roth grieved the loss of his ally and by manipulating Fredo Corleone he got information that his associate Johnny Ola was able to use to stage an assassination attempt on Michael by shooting up his bedroom. However he would later tell Michael he wasn't angry about Greene's death, knowing that Greene's mouth brought him to this, that the shooting was just business.
Michael and a number of other business and Mafia figures attended a party in Cuba for Roth. Remembering what his father taught him about keeping friends close and enemies closer Michael decided to lull Roth into a false sense of security by maintaining good relations with him. Roth had a bout of illness during this time, and was hospitalized towards the end of 1958. Michael had attempted to have Roth killed in the hospital but military guards at the hospital intervened and killed the assassin before he could finish Roth off. Meanwhile the government of Fulgencio Batista collapsed and a new government founded by rebel leader Fidel Castro came to power.
Afterwards Roth attempted to assassinate Pentangeli by having a hit carried out against them, and had the assassins tell Roth that Michael Corleone said hello. Pentangeli then went into witness protection, feeling that Corleone had betrayed him. Michael flew in Pentangeli's brother just before he testified against the Corleones in the Senate, reminding Pentangeli not to break the ometra.
Roth tried to move to Israel under the law of return and live his remaining years there. However Israel's high court refused his admission due to his criminal ties. He then went to several Latin and South American countries, seeking asylum there. All of them refused to let Hyman in, and he was forced to return to the United States.
Roth was flown to the United States, and was taken in to custody upon his arrival at Miami International Airport. While speaking with reporters Corleone soldier Rocco Lampone walked up and shot him in the stomach, killing Roth. Lampone tried to get away but was shot by the Federal agents who had taken Roth into custody.
The character of the older Hyman Roth was portrayed by Lee Strasberg, who founded the Actors Studio and was considered the father of method acting in North America. Two of his students were Al Pacino (Michael Corleone) and Robert De Niro (the young Vito Corleone). His work on The Godfather II earned him an Academy Award nomination.
A younger Roth was played by John Menga in a deleted scene in the second film where he was introduced to Vito. For the video game adaptation of The Godfather II Roth was voiced by Danny Jacobs.
Roth was based on the Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky, who also ran molasses from Cuba and was a partner of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. He was also friends with Bugsy Siegel, who the Moe Greene character was based upon. Roth's original last name of Suchowsky was based on Lansky's original surname Suchowlansky. After an unsuccessful attempt to move to Israel Lansky returned to the United States to face tax evasion charges. Unlike Roth he was not killed upon arrival. After being acquitted of the charges Lansky spent the rest of his life living a quiet existence in Miami. Lansky died at the age of 80. While having no assets on paper, it was believed he was worth millions when he died.