NEW YORK (CBS) THIS FAMILY OF MINE is a memoir by Victoria Gotti that captures "the life" of the late Mafia boss, her father John Gotti, and chronicles the "other life" of the Gottis – the behind-the-scenes world of one of America's most talked about families.
Victoria Gotti never intended to reveal the inside story of the Gotti household, but decided that only she could set the record straight. Gotti, one of four siblings, and single mother to three sons with whom she shared reality television stardom on Growing Up Gotti, delivers an intimate family portrait filled with deeply personal reflections and never-before-published photographs.
With the current trial of her brother John "Junior" Gotti sustaining the high drama of the Gotti saga, fascination with this only-in-New York clan is stronger than ever. Victoria Gotti's revelations and insider secrets are the signature of this one-of-a-kind American story.
Victoria Gotti, author of This Family of Mine, was recently interviewed by Correspondent Troy Roberts of 48 Hours Mystery. The following are excerpts of their conversations on Sept. 8, 2009, and Sept. 19, 2009. Some subjects were discussed more than once.
Troy Roberts (TR): What's the most difficult thing that you've had to grapple with… writing this book?
VICTORIA GOTTI(VG): The most difficult thing that I've had to contend with is separating my father's life, in "the life," from the father that I knew at home. The man that I knew outside, away from that world. That's been incredibly difficult for me. To learn certain things that we don't want to know, but we in the end have to deal with. It's very difficult, when you're not a part of a world that you're hearing about or you're told about… to separate the two. And that was probably the most difficult part of writing this book.
TR: What about… your brother (John)?
VG: Writing this book was probably very important as far as my brother John is concerned because as John has stated, he was once a part of that world. And is no longer, by his own choosing. I think he basically over time saw the good, the bad, the ugly that goes along with being a part of that life, a part of that world. I believe that this book was extremely important for that issue alone. Because I think that prosecutors want you to believe that John was and is still a part of this world. I think that the media reports also tend to add credibility to that statement, to that accusation. But I can tell you that it is a complete fallacy.
TR: What's been the toughest thing to hear about your brother that you know is not true?
VG: I think hearing the whole slew of charges, murder, drugs, everything… because I know John. And that is not John. John was a player in that world. And he self-admittedly… attests to that. But murder? Drugs? Never happened. I know people will say, 'Oh, well, you know, she's in denial.' Or they'll say... 'there are certain things that you do know. And maybe don't wish to speak about.' But there are certain things that you… know to be certain… mistakes people have made, admissions people have made. The quest for someone to want to start a new life. To rebuild a world that has fallen apart. That is John that I know. And these allegations are so far-fetched that I know we're not speaking of the same man.
TR: What don't people know about your father?
VG: What people don't know about my father I think would really surprise them. I think that he saw that life, his life, as his only recourse. Coming up from where he did. Rising out of the ashes, so to speak. That was his childhood. I think that if given another chance, I think he would have lived his life totally different. But I think once he got involved in it, out of a quest for survival, I think he just kept rolling with it and rolling with it and becoming more and more embroiled in it. Wrapped up in it.
TR: What do you say to people who say it sounds like you're making an apology?
VG: I make no apology. I don't find any excuses for the difficult childhood. The enormous level of poverty. But people do ask me why I think he chose that path. Why that life? Why that world? And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that (poverty). If I didn't speak of that.
TR: Was there a time that you realized that your family was not like every other family?
VG: I think I realized early on, probably after the second grade, that my family wasn't like other families. And it hurt. I think as a result, it made me withdraw from social activities like having friends… school. I think it… it just took a sort of innocence away from me at such an early age. That I in turn chose to just withdraw. I withdrew from everything that made me happy in those days. And I think that… in its place, I became very nervous, very anxious. And very quiet.
TR: What did your dad say about writing this book?
(Editor's note: John Gotti died in a prison hospital of cancer in 2002)
VG: Dad and I had a lot of conversations about the books that I've written. The books that I would go on to write. And when discussing this book, we both agreed that unless it was out of absolute necessity, it wasn't a project I would do. (Dad) felt, though, at some point, if it became a matter of necessity, he said that he just had one request. And that was that I not make him out to be an altar boy. Because he said, 'Vicky, I'm not. I wasn't.'
TR: You said 'if it became a necessity.' What is so urgent… about right now... getting the story out?
VG: I think, first and foremost, my brother John's life is on the line. I think that any family that cares about each other, is actively involved in each other's lives, the welfare of everyone in their family. I believe any family member would do what they can to save a loved one's life. If I believed that John was guilty of these charges… if I believed that he did not pay his debt… for being part of that life. I wouldn't…rally to his side.
...My family had had enough of the lies, the gossip, week after week, a different newspaper headline. It became really a huge burden on the family. And I think that it… every family had(sic) its breaking point. And we certainly have ours, too.
There's always been a fine line between entertainment and fact. Especially where that life is concerned. And I think that in recent months, many people have walked across that line or have crossed over that line…. (in) the stories that came out in the press about members not involved in that life that had no involvement, no knowledge of that life. We're dragged into many ugly, messy headlines, stories, accusations, allegations.
It just affected my family. I think in… a manner that finally left everyone saying, 'Enough is enough. Enough is enough.' How many times do we go on, just nod our head and say, 'That's ridiculous. We're not gonna give… credibility to that by replying. …We're not gonna dignify that by responding.' How many times can you do that? And read story after story, hear story after story? And there is a point, a time, when it becomes too much. Enough.
MORE ON JOHN GOTTI, VICTORIA GOTTI'S FATHER:
VG: I think the world has one view of John Gotti, my father. And it's their right to. But there was a whole different side to this man. You know? He couldn't have been all that bad, because he had so many people that loved him. He had so many people that supported him. There was a lot of good in this man. And I believe that he was painted with one brush, a one brush stroke. By many… to be portrayed in just that one light. And I know if he were still here today, that's not something he would want to have had happened(sic). I think that for as private as he was with his childhood, with his life, his lifestyle… I think he would have wanted the world to know what he was really like… as a person.
TR: You probably had to ask yourself when you were doing this project… You probably had to ask yourself a lot of questions like, "Did my dad do these things?" …Did he do all these awful things?
VG: It was very, very difficult for me to look into these allegations, these crimes that he was accused of committing. Very difficult for me to look inside that world. That life. It is not a life that I… see any glamour, any hope in. I don't see why anybody would praise that or support that. So, having felt that way my whole life growing up, about that life, I think it was even harder now. Going back in, while writing this book, to explore all of these avenues to explore that world. It was not easy. And I think always living with the notion that something would happen to my father, something very bad…like jail or death… always played a role, as well.
TR: What do you have to add to the conversation about your family, your father, that people don't already know?
VG: If you really want to know John Gotti, you gotta talk to me. You gotta talk to… you gotta talk to my brother. You gotta talk to my sister. You have to… really want to know us. We've got a whole other story that no one's ever heard before.
Before this book, before this interview, there were many questions. I was always asked questions. Whenever I promoted a novel. When I did a project. When I did a television show, there were always the questions related to John Gotti, to my father, and that life. I know very little about that life, because my father separated… his world with(sic) our home life. And went out of his way, awfully, awfully hard to go out of his way… to keep those two worlds separate.
TR: How did you do your research for the book?
VG: I talked to a lot of people. And I think that people that were closed-mouth(sic) before… while dad was alive… now suddenly seem to want to speak to quote unquote "set the record straight." …I used a lot of conversations I'd had with dad towards the end. When he knew he was dying. He would all of a sudden speak about his childhood… childhood he never wanted to speak about. For whatever reason….I think for the obvious reasons, he felt it was… maybe he was embarrassed by it. But putting all of this together towards the end, I think gave me the greatest insight towards writing this book.
…My family had come to me a number of times. And said, 'You need to write this book. You need to do this project.' I didn't agree with them. In fact, I still have my doubts. But I respected their wishes. I respected their honesty. They'd had enough. They were a family in crisis. Myself included.
We were hurting. We are hurting. I think that there's just a need for us right now to… we've had enough. I think we just… we just want to go on with our lives. We just want to be out of this glare that was my father's life. That was my brother's life. We want out. We just don't want to be continuously associated with this, day in and day out. And year after year. And our… our children, our children's children. Enough. I think we just believe that it's time. It's time to just stop it all, change the face of what… of what Gotti means. What the last name Gotti means. And move on.
I think it was time for all of us, not just myself, but I think everybody in the family to set the record straight. To call it as it was. And get on with it. Enough of the speculation. Enough of the rumors, the headlines. Just,.. you want it? Read it. You want to know about it so badly, there it is. But at the same time, we just want to move on.
The reason this book was born also, and the reason for this interview even, is that we're aware as a family that now, in order to save John's life, my brother, it's war. It's all out war. And we are doing what we can, fighting like hell, to see that he gets a fair trial. That he gets a fair shot. It's about a life that he's left long behind him. More than a decade ago. And it's just something that we feel now should be addressed. And we want to just go on with our lives. We want to put this behind us.
TR: Tell me how the family sees your father.
VG: John Gotti, my father, the man that I knew-- was very hands-on, very concerned about everything that was going on in my life. Good and bad. I think the bad concerned him more. There were certain things that he had tried to change. But he let me make that mistake. He would say, 'I'll let you fly until you crash.' And more times than not, I would crash. But he was a good teacher. He was a good listener. He was a man that could never tell us no, he could never tell me no, for anything.
… He would see to it that, if he could, he would give us the world. But stop just short of spoiling us. He didn't believe in… children with materialistic things. He believed that you could never spoil a child with too much love. He believed that boys should grow into strong young men. Should be stoics, should be leaders, natural born leaders. He believed that, you know, lying was… a poor character trait. He believed that greed was the worst, jealousy right behind that. He was a very complex man. But he had a very admirable side to him. He had a very charismatic side to him.
TR: What do you want the Gotti name to stand for?
VG: I want the Gotti name to stand for strength-- … in the men and in the women. I want all of the good things that my father had to offer us or taught us to remain. I want them to be passed down to his grandchildren to his great-grandchildren. I want… I think his strength, his perseverance. His dedication to anyone he loved. His generosity. The way that he would lend a hand or a dollar to anybody in need. I think the good parts of John Gotti should be remembered. I think those are the parts that should be handed down to his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Those are the parts that I'm trying to preserve.
TR: Growing up there were a lot of secrets in the house… with what your dad was doing every day versus what was really happening.
VG: I'm sure my parents tried to hide a lot of things from me, from all of us. I think… in hindsight, we all realized that the truth would have been a lot better than the secrets. I think that the secrets then later evolve as distrust, mistrust. I think that I blame my mother, my father, to some degree, too. For lying to me indirectly about what he did for a living, where he was going when he went to jail.
When there are secrets like that in the household, nothing good can come of that. It's something that grows and grows and grows. It's not swept under the rug. It's not hidden in the closet. It grows and it festers and it just makes people angry. And angrier.
TR: One of the most touching stories you tell (is) about what it's like to grow up as a little girl with all these allegations.
VG: Being young and having to deal with what you suspect to be the truth... wrestle with why you were lied to. You know, at seven, eight, nine years old, I think others think you're too young to even know, to understand. But you do know. You do suspect. And then you don't understand. And that makes it harder. I think more difficult to… digest. More difficult to deal with. I think you grow up angry. I think you grow up distrusting people. I think you grow up scared, anxious all the time. I know that these were things that… that affected me in probably the worst way.
I don't remember Dad leaving. And years later I came to believe that he left in the middle of the night, because he didn't want to face us. I was only seven years old when I learned that my father went to jail. Until this point and even after, my parents tried as hard as they could to keep my siblings and me sheltered from the harsh realities of my father's line of work.
ON THE NEXT GENERATION OF GOTTIS:
VG: … each of my sons, three fine young men. I see a new generation, a new lineage. I see promise and hope where there was once poverty and abuse. With Carmine, my oldest son, I see the promise of creativity, an artist perhaps, maybe even a musician.
With John, a scholar, perhaps a successful career in law. With Frankie, my youngest, I see ambition and effort. An accomplished businessman. Most of all, I see hope. Hope for a changed world, for the new generation of Gotti men. I see a new code of ethics, morals, and integrity. This is the real legacy John Gotti left in his wake. In the end, family is all anyone really has. To have his sons and grandsons pay for the sins of the father was never his intention. He really believed that… his ambitions, and his way of life would die with him.
Instead they were passed on to his children. Let's hope it dies here and the new legacy of Gotti men will produce promise. I mourn the loss of the man, but not the loss of "the life." I fight many demons trying to distinguish my father from his choice of lifestyle. I loved him, but I loathed the lifestyle he chose. And God knows, I have tried to understand, tried to make sense of it all. Then I remember my father's own words. 'My life dictated that I take each course I took. I didn't have any multiple choices. Listen to me carefully. You'll never see another guy like me, if you live to be 5,000.' Like it or not, he was right.
"What will become of the Gottis?" I only pray for peace, mostly for my mother's sake… While we… wait for the outcome of John's trial, we pray that this next jury is able to put aside any bias and judge him with their hearts and heads fairly. As for my father, there are those who stop me and remind me of the love they have for him. While others only stare and whisper of their contempt. Love or hate, Robin Hood or common thug. Some nights I go to bed so angry at him I could cry. While other nights leave me crying for just one more day with him.
ON JOHN GOTTI, HER FATHER, SEPARATING HIS HOME LIFE FROM 'THE LIFE':
VG: There were never any people that came through our door. He was very, very careful about who sat at our table at night. He had to really know you. And that was quite a compliment… to be invited to his table at night with his family. He would never sit down and discuss his life.
My sister and my mother and I were talking just recently. My sister said something very interesting. She said, 'Do you remember… when it was in '85 and it was after this (Paul) Castellano shooting.' And my sister says, 'Do you remember how'-- the three of us were on the phone, three-way calling -- and she said, 'Do you remember Mommy saying'-- and this is the truth -- my mother said to my sister and I, she made a comment, something to the effect of… it was when the newspaper started really going with stories every day, every day, every day. John Gotti, John Gotti this, John Gotti that. John Gotti. They just couldn't seem to get enough of him in any area.
Law enforcement. Gossip. Just-- just John Gotti, John Gotti. Then my mother saying to us that day, 'Now'… she said, 'Now I know law enforcement's gone crazy.' She said, 'This is insane. This is insanity. And so are the reporters as well.' And I said to her, "What do you mean?"
And she said, 'Could you believe? They have your father as the boss of all bosses?' And we all laughed. Because that was something that you-- you watched in a movie…
The Godfather. You didn't-- you just didn't imagine that that even happened. You didn't-- on one hand, he was a low-key guy. And on the other hand, it's like he had this whole other… this… this other life that dictated. You know, it was two different worlds. And when he was in our world, he was Dad first. He was Grandpa second.
He was a husband. He was everything you should be. And then it was his other world that he didn't want any of us to ever know about, question, talk about. That was all nobody's business. That was not something that we needed to know about. But we would assume. Every time I would do an interview or I would talk about(sic) and people would say, 'Is it true?,'… if they had asked me, 'Well, do you believe what you're reading?' I'd have to say, and I did say, "I'm not stupid."
...I didn't sit down with my father and say, 'Hey, I want the real story here. What is it? What's true? What's not true? Separate fact from fiction.'… if you knew Dad, you just didn't. You just didn't. You didn't. It wasn't-- it was all make believe to him. That didn't-- that didn't exist, in a sense. All of it was fabricated. The Sopranos was fabricated. The Godfather was fabricated. It wasn't reality to him. And I had to say to myself sometimes, 'Well, he has to know that we assume or people are telling us things.'
Guys in the neighborhood. You know, girls. Things that they've heard. Things that they heard their parents talk about or say. You know, and it's just-- I can honestly stand here and tell you we have never had a conversation ever about that. Ever. And I can tell you, I can safely say, he has never had that conversation with any of my siblings.
Now John ("Junior" Gotti, her brother),I think when John made his decision at a certain age to walk down that same path, to enter into that life, I think it changed for Dad. I think then it became about there were no secrets. There were no boundaries. This was someone that now was privy to this-- to this world, to this life. So it was different than it was with one of his other children or his-- I mean, even my brother Peter knew nothing.
My mother, she knew what kind of a lifestyle he, Dad, was-- was involved in early on. I mean, she saw things. She heard things. There were certain things that he came home with and…and would tell her. But at the same time, he never ever-- as I just told you, that conversation was a real conversation when my mother said to my sister and I, 'Now I know they've gone crazy. Can you believe that they actually'… we thought that was so preposterous that, you know-- and this was 1985.
ON JOHN GOTTI'S PUBLIC PERSONNA:
VG: You see the world celebrating this man. You see… I think since I was old enough to talk… people treating him like he was the second coming of Christ.
I don't exaggerate when I say this. It sounds like I am, but I'm not. You walk into a restaurant with him and people are fawning over him. We're talking about in the '70s… I'm not talking about 1990… I'm talking about when this man came outside of the house.
He was like the pied piper. Every kid from the block came running down that block. And I thought, 'Oh, it's the free ice cream. You know, Dad's that kind of a guy. He's a great guy.' It's funny how years later I, you know, we figured this out, but just as Dad would leave every morning, you know, in the middle of the summer, 10:30, 11:00, the Good Humor truck would pull up.
And there was Dad, you know, with a $20 bill buying all the kids ice cream. Every kid would jump into that crowd, 'Me. Me. Me. Me.' And I would sit there and say, 'Why? What was it about him? Was it the free ice cream?' Then I believed it was. When I got older, I knew better. It certainly wasn't. It was him.
ON JOHN GOTTI'S CHILDHOOD
VG: Even when he went to prison, we kind of only got a glimpse inside of his life through stories that were being told on these visits, mostly between Dad and his brother, my Uncle Peter. I would have to say we learned most about his life when he knew he had cancer, when he knew he was dying. I don't know if he felt it was time to talk about it. I don't know. I know I could tell it bothered him that he and his mother were never as close as they should have been. I got that on one or two visits when he had passed certain comments about not seeing her at all in the last year.
And then he'd go back to how he was raised and certain stories. And I think he felt that she (his mother) could have protected the kids a lot more than she did. I think he felt she could have been stronger than she was. I think he believed that, you know, she should have either early on gotten away from her husband, his father, or perhaps she shouldn't have had 18 pregnancies, 11 children surviving. That always seemed to bother my father.
Because there was no money. There was no money to support one or two children, let alone a dozen. Times were as-- as hard as they could be. They were as bad as they-- they were gonna get. This was a volatile couple that just couldn't seem to get things on track, yet were together for so many years. These kids were exposed to this couple's anger, to every disappointment my grandfather ever had in his life, which was many. And again, I think that the-- the worst thing back then was the poverty. It was the poverty.
It was so bad that I remember my father saying things like-- you know, if we ever complained about certain things, little things-- and we were kids at the time… But there were certain things that would flip his switch, as we used to say. One day-- my sister and I were-- were fighting over who was gonna get… my mother bought us one of those trundle beds and, you know, the… the little bed came out underneath the other and you tucked it away nicely during the day.
And my sister and I both realized that whoever got the… master bed, the one that always stayed on the outside, was the better of the bargain. And we were fighting over that. And I remember my father coming into the room. Mom got upset and she was yelling at both, you know, Angel and I. And she punished us both.
And my father came in and he-- you know, he heard the racket. And he said, 'Well, what are you fighting over?' And my mother told him, 'They're fighting over the bed, which one can have which bed. Can you believe it?' That was it. I remember him just yelling to no one in particular about, 'Well, you know what? That's the problem. If, you know, you have a kid that has no bed, that sleeps on a floor, on a cold, hardwood floor, sometimes a concrete floor for days, weeks, months, you know, with no food, no blankets, no nothing… And yet you wake up with sores, body sores on you.'
And he went on and on. And my sister and I just sat… and we looked at each other. You know, we weren't doing that because… we were trying to be spoiled. But he saw it as that. And these were times when his childhood or lack thereof would come creeping through. And he would get resentful. He would get angry.
There was another time when I remember we were fighting over candy. Stupid things. He used to threaten us all the time. And he would say, 'You know, there are kids in so-and-so hospital that-- that know nothing else. They're dying. They're-- they're sick. They're-- they're in pain. They're-- you know, these kids have nothing. You guys have everything.' And we were poor. But he'd say, 'You guys have everything.'
And I guess if-- considering what he didn't have, or compared to what he had or didn't have, we did have everything. He would threaten, threaten, threaten. One day he made good on his promise. He dragged all three of us, me, Angel, and John. At the time we were young. We were about-- I think I was seven. I think my sister was probably nine. John, six? Five? He took us to Saint Jude's Hospital and he showed us these kids. And he made sure that we left there, I mean, h-- horrified. He wanted to teach us a lesson.
He wanted us to know that, you know, we could have it a lot worse and we did not. And he wanted us to know that we should be thankful for what we have. And number one, starting with our health. Number two, you know, whatever little we did have, we should think of-- meaning our small, you know, apartment-- the railroad flat in Brooklyn growing up, it was a castle as far as we were concerned. He believed we should believe this.
And he was right, of course. But I always remember growin' up thinkin', 'Wow. That traumatized me.' I mean, I didn't get that image of those children out of my mind for so long. I mean, I-- it just-- it upset me. And I remember sayin' to him, you know, years later, 'That was tough love. You know, that was.' And he just looked at me… And he said to me, 'You needed to see that. You needed to know,' he said.
ON JOHN GOTTI'S CHILDHOOD CHOICES:
VG: He never saw anything wrong in that. He didn't see what an outsider would see. He didn't see this. This wasn't-- you know, there was the-- what they call the rules of the street. There was street life. This is it. This is where it came from. He wasn't surrounded by kids that went to school, prep schools or otherwise, that were going to study to be doctors or lawyers. He wasn't-- I remember him passing a comment once. I was so young-- it's amazing that I remember it.
And he said something like, 'People like us, we'll never be doctors and lawyers. Kids like us, we were never destined to be that to begin with. We were ragamuffins.'
He was super, super smart. He could have gotten his way through school. He could have made something of himself in a different direction. But this was the life he was living. This is the path that he was taking. And that, he didn't see anything wrong with it… this is what he chose for himself.
TR: Would your father... approve of this book?
VG: Yes and no. Yes and no. He would approve if the time was right. If my father was still alive, no he would not approve of it. Absolutely not.
The reason why I said that was because he had this conversation with me before he lost the ability to speak-- probably about a month before. It's almost like he knew and there were certain things he had to say or he wanted to say. And the first thing he said to me was-- we were talking about writing and-- my life, my career, and of course my divorce.
Now that I was divorced, what was I gonna do with my life. And we were-- we were discussing things. And he just turned to me and he said, "Don't ever write that book." And I said, "I'm sorry, that-- 'that' book?" He says, 'That book.'
TR: Meaning this book.
VG: So I-- I kind of looked at him and I said, 'I-- I wouldn't write what book?' You know, at that point, again, what? And he looked at me again and he was very silent. I think he wanted to say more and he just wouldn't. Maybe he couldn't. And he said to me, 'I'm gonna be gone,' he said. 'And it's gonna leave an impact on a lot of people.'
...He said, 'It seems as though mostly on you.' Because he and I were very close. And he turned to me and said, 'This is your life. If you ever write that book,' he said, 'you write it as your life and how you saw it. And don't ever,' he said, 'ever confuse the two.'
Watch 48 Hours | Mystery season premiere "Our Father... The Godfather," Saturday, Sept. 26 at 10 p.m.
Publisher Pocket Books is a division of Simon & Schuster, part of the CBS Corporation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
(CBS/Simon & Schuster)
Victoria Gotti was a columnist at the "New York Post," executive editor of Star magazine, an on-air correspondent for Extra!, and star of the A&E reality television series Growing Up Gotti. She is the daughter of the late Mafia boss John Gotti and has written five books.
THIS FAMILY OF MINE>