You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you or my boy to me? I forgo the vengeance of my son. But my youngest son had to leave this country because of this Sollozzo business. So now I have to make arrangements to bring him back safely cleared of all these false charges. But I'm a superstitious man. And if some unlucky accident should befall him, if he should be shot in the head by a police officer, or if he should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he's struck by a bolt of lightning... then I'm going to blame some of the people in this room... and that, I do not forgive. But, that aside, let say that I swear, on the souls of my grandchildren, that I will not be the one to break the peace we have made here today.
~ Don Vito Corleone

Don Vito Corleone is a main character from The Godfather novel and films although he appears more prominently in the first installment where he is portrayed by the late Marlon Brando, while in the second he appears in recurring flashbacks where he is played by Robert De Niro.


The novel explains that Vito was born in the small town of Corleone in 1891. According to The Godfather Part II, he was born on December 7th. His father, Antonio Andolini, is murdered by the local Mafia boss, Don Ciccio, because he refused to pay tribute to him. His older brother, Paolo, swears revenge, but is himself murdered soon after. Eventually, Ciccio's henchmen come to the residence of the Andolinis to take Vito away and have him killed. Desperate, Signora Andolini takes her son to see the mafia chieftain herself. When Vito's mother goes to see Don Ciccio, she begs him to spare Vito. However, Ciccio refuses, reasoning that Vito would also seek revenge as an adult. Upon Ciccio's refusal, Signora Andolini puts a knife to his throat, allowing her son to escape, but is then shot dead by Ciccio's guards. (In the novel, she survives being shot and later reunites with her son in Sicily many years later.) Later that night, he is smuggled away, fleeing Sicily to seek refuge in America on a cargo ship full of immigrants. In the novel, he deliberately changes his name to Corleone, after his home town. The film, however, plays that he is renamed "Vito Corleone" because the immigration workers at Ellis Island mistake "Andolini" for his middle name and the name of his town for his last name. According to The Godfather Part II, he later adopts the middle name "Andolini" to acknowledge his heritage.

Vito is later adopted by the Abbandando family in Manhattan's Lower East Side, and he befriends their son, Genco, who becomes like a brother to him. Vito begins making an honest living at Abbandando's grocery store on Ninth Avenue, but loses the job, as an intimidated Abbandando is forced to fire Vito to make room for the nephew of Don Fanucci, a blackhander and the local neighborhood padrone. A young Vito (played by Robert De Niro) kills Don Fanucci

He soon learns to survive and prosper through petty crime and performing favors in return for loyalty. During this time, he also befriends two other low-level hoods, Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio. In 1920, he commits his first murder, killing Fanucci, who had tried to extort money from him. Vito chooses the day of a major Italian festival to spy on Fanucci from the rooftops as Fanucci goes home, and surprises him at the door to his apartment. He shoots Fanucci three times, as the din from the festival and the towel he had wrapped around the gun as a makeshift silencer drowns out the noise from the gunshots.

As a young man, Vito starts an olive oil business, Genco Pura (known as simply Genco Olive Oil in the films) with his friend Genco Abbandando. The company eventually becomes the biggest olive oil importer in the nation. Over the years he uses it as a legal front for his organized crime syndicate, while amassing a fortune with his illegal operations. In 1925, he returns to Sicily for the first time since leaving 24 years earlier. He and his partner, Don Tommasino, then set up a meeting with the aging Don Ciccio, where he kills him by carving his stomach open, thus avenging his murdered father, mother and brother.

By the early 1930s, Vito Corleone has organized his illegal operations as the Corleone crime family. Genco Abbandando becomes his consigliere, or advisor, with Clemenza and Tessio as caporegimes. Later, his oldest son Santino (nicknamed "Sonny") becomes a capo as well, and eventually his underboss. Around 1939, he moves his base of operations to Long Beach, on Long Island. While he oversees a business founded on gambling, bootlegging, and union corruption, he is known as a kind, generous man who lives by a strict moral code of loyalty to friends and, above all, family. He is a staunch believer in family values, rebuking his eldest son for conducting an affair, speaking contemptuously of his rival Don Tattaglia as "a pimp" and (in a deleted scene) expressing disgust ("infamia") at Jack Woltz's abuse of underage girls. At the same time, he is known as a traditionalist who demands respect commensurate with his status. By the time of the novel and film, even his three closest friends — Abbadando, Clemenza and Tessio — never call him "Vito", but either "Godfather" or "Don Corleone." In both the book and the first scene of the first Godfather, he chastises his old friend, undertaker Amerigo Bonasera, for not coming to him first after his daughter is beaten up instead of going to the police. Although he has a reputation for ruthlessness, he disapproves of many of the vicious crimes carried out by gangs, and so seeks to control crime in New York by either consuming or eliminating rival gangs.

In 1945, Vito is nearly assassinated when he refuses the request of Virgil Sollozzo to invest in a heroin operation and use his political contacts for the operation's protection. At the meeting for the request, Sonny intimates that he is interested in the offer; after the meeting, Vito warns his son that he should never let anyone but the family in on his thinking. Vito is supposed to be driven home by his bodyguard, Paulie Gatto (a soldier in the Clemenza regime), along with his son Fredo. When the Don finds that Paulie is not there, Fredo tells him that Paulie has called in sick that day due to a cold. The Don crosses the street to buy oranges from a street vendor, when two of Sollozzo's hitmen come out from the shadows with guns drawn. Realizing the situation, Vito tries to sprint back to his Cadillac but he is shot five times. Drawing his weapon, Fredo tries to help his father, but is overcome with uncontrollable fear, fumbles with his gun -- and can't get to his defense in time.

Certain that the Don is dead, Sollozzo kidnaps Corleone family consigliere Tom Hagen and tells him to get Sonny to accept the drug deal. Hagen agrees, but warns Sollozzo that the Don's fanatically loyal hitman, Luca Brasi, will likely come after Sollozzo. Sollozzo merely tells him to "let me worry about Luca", not telling him that he already killed him hours earlier.

Just as Hagen is released, Sollozzo finds out the Don survived. Enraged, he makes a second attempt two days later. The Don is at the French Hospital being guarded by men from Tessio's regime. However, Sollozzo has police Captain Mark McCluskey — who has been on the take for many years — throw Tessio's men in jail, leaving the Don unguarded. Unfortunately for Sollozzo and McCluskey, Vito's youngest son Michael comes to visit his father just minutes before the attack is due. Realizing that his father is in danger, Michael has a nurse help him move the Don to another room and pretends to stand guard outside the hospital with Enzo the baker, a man who had come to visit the Don in gratitude for his earlier assistance in allowing him to stay in America.

Injuries from the attack put Vito out of action for the next three years, during which Sonny serves as acting head of the family. Sonny determines that Paulie took money from Sollozzo in return for betraying the Don, and orders him killed. He also gets word the Tattaglias had killed Luca Brasi, and orders Tessio's men to kill the family's underboss, Bruno Tattaglia, when the Tattaglias refused to turn him over. Michael persuades Sonny to allow him to avenge their father by killing Sollozzo and McCluskey himself, noting that as a longtime non-combatant he would be little suspected and that the otherwise off-limits action of killing a police captain was justified by the fact that McCluskey is serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard. Also, Michael points out, the family's media contacts can spread word of McCluskey's corruption.

A year later, Sonny himself is assassinated in a plot instigated by his sister, Connie's abusive husband Carlo Rizzi, in revenge for beating up after first learning of his abuse. This forces Vito to resume command. He ordered that no inquiries be made, and also ordered that no vengeance should be sought. With the Don incapacitated, the other families had moved in on his business interests, as well as his labor rackets. With the Don's return, rival families now started reconsidering their moves.

After Sonny's funeral and other formalities, Vito orders Hagen to contact Emilio Barzini, the second most powerful Mafia chieftain in the country, in order to arrange a meeting of heads of all the families in America except the Chicago Outfit (considered the "black sheep" of the underworld). The meeting takes place in the board room of a Manhattan bank whose president was a close friend of the Corleones.

In that meeting, Vito renounces all vengeance regarding his son's death, and reluctantly agrees to the drug operations. However, he says he only accepts this for "selfish reasons" in order to bring Michael back from exile in Sicily. He then says that, should anything happen to his remaining children, he will exact indiscriminate vengeance upon all of the Dons. Though it pains him to do this, he gains the knowledge that both Tattaglia and Sollozzo were merely pawns in a bigger plot to destroy the family started by Barzini himself, aided and abetted by the other dons.

After Michael's return from Sicily, Vito installs him in the family business. After Michael's marriage to long-time girlfriend Kay Adams, Vito goes into semi-retirement. Michael becomes operating head of the family, with Vito as an informal consigliere. Michael sends Hagen to Las Vegas to act as the family's lawyer there and lay the groundwork for a planned move of most operations there after Vito's death. Clemenza and Tessio request permission to break off and form their own families after the move to Las Vegas. Michael's bodyguards Al Neri and Rocco Lampone are chosen to be the future caporegimes of the family.

At the end of the novel, Vito dies of a heart attack while playing with his grandson Anthony in his garden. His last words in the novel are, "Life is so beautiful." Vito's funeral is a grand affair, with all the other dons, capos and consiglieres in New York attending.

Vito tells Michael some days before his death that Barzini would set Michael up to be killed under cover of a meeting "to fix up things." Barzini would use a trusted member of the Corleone family as an intermediary. At the funeral, Tessio tells Michael that he had set up a meeting on his territory in Brooklyn, where Michael would presumably be safe. However, Michael had anticipated this and has Tessio killed, as well as Dons Barzini and Tattaglia (and in the film, Dons Cuneo and Strachi as well) and Carlo Rizzi as well after getting him to confess to his part in Sonny's death, thus avenging his father and brother.

The Godfather: The Game

Vito Corleone also appeares in the 2005 video game adaptation of the first film where he sends the player on some missions.

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