Boardwalk Empire (which is streamable on HBO Now) was one the greatest mob-centric TV shows in history, and the Martin Scorsese-produced drama intricately wove fiction and non-fiction into a bloody, thrilling narrative. The booze-soaked HBO show was dotted with many infamous characters who were based on real-life figures. Here are five things you may not have known about some of the most popular characters on the show.
“Nucky” Thompson never reportedly killed anyone.
Steve Buscemi’s character in Boardwalk Empire is loosely based on Enoch L. Johnson, a strong political leader in Atlantic City during the prohibition-era. There are several parallels between the two, such as their background in law enforcement and their family history. Johnson was never charged with killing anyone, nor is he believed to have ordered the killing of anyone, despite Buscemi’s nefarious portrayal. Also, while Thompson eventually met his fate at the hands of Jimmy Darmody’s son, Johnson lived a longer life, surviving a prison stint before dying in his New Jersey home in 1968.
Meyer Lansky might have killed Bugsy Siegel.
Lansky is considered one of the architects of the American mafia, helping the outfit to consolidate vast amounts of wealth and power through his intelligent schemes. In Boardwalk Empire, his formative years in crime had him linked with Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel, but Lansky may have been involved with Siegel’s murder in Beverly Hills. On June 20, 1947, Siegel was killed instantly when he was shot in the head and body as he relaxed on a sofa in a Beverly Hills home. Siegel was in charge of the Flamingo hotel-casino in Las Vegas, but the resort was hemorrhaging money, and mob investors didn’t like it. Some reports say that Lansky tried to hold the mob off from killing his friend, and others say that Lansky was the one who ordered the hit. Siegel’s murder remains unsolved.
Arnold Rothstein remained a gangster, even in his final moments.
In Boardwalk Empire, Arnold Rothstein was a sophisticated gentleman who was well-spoken and had a knack for winning in his gambling ventures. The real-life Rothstein was incredibly adept at gambling games, and, at the age of 20, he already owned and operated his own casino. But gambling is eventually what killed the gangster. In 1928, Rothstein was found bleeding to death from gunshot wounds at the service entrance of the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan. Rothstein’s trail of blood led back to a room where a group of men were playing cards. Supposedly, Rothstein had refused to pay a gambling debt based on the premise that the game was rigged. When authorities asked him who pulled the trigger, Rothstein placed his finger to his lips, signaling that the mafia code of silence would stay intact, even as he lay dying.
Al Capone’s death was caused by syphilis.
Many people know that Al Capone was one of the most feared mobsters of all-time, that he ascended the Chicago criminal empire to become “Public Enemy No. 1,” and that his outfit was pulling in at least $100 million a year from bootlegging, gambling, extortion, and other crimes. But what many people may not know was that Capone’s downfall was syphilis. After he was imprisoned in an Atlanta penitentiary in 1932 for tax evasion, a medical exam revealed that he had the disease. Capone’s condition started to deteriorate in Alcatraz, when he began showing signs of dementia. Doctors tried to fight the disease by injecting him with malaria, hoping the fever would burn off the syphilis. By the time he received penicillin treatments following his release from prison, it was too late. In 1947, a stroke and a bout with pneumonia proved fatal to the Chicago gangster.
Chalky White was a champion boxer.
Chalky White was one of the more popular characters in Boardwalk Empire who unfortunately met his demise at the hands of Valentin Narcisse. White’s character was based on the real-life Albert “Chalky” Wright. He was a world champion boxer who fought professionally from 1928 to 1948, amassing 158 wins with 43 losses. Wright won the world featherweight championship in 1941, and Ring magazine listed him as one of the 100 greatest punchers of all-time. The former champion died in Los Angeles in 1957 after slipping in a bathtub.