Sonny Corleone
Santino Corleone
Biographical Information
Aliases Sonny
Gender Male
Born 1916[1]
Hell's Kitchen, New York, U.S.
Died 1948[1]
Long Island, New York, U.S.
Affiliation Corleone family
Title(s) Caporegime
Acting Don
Behind the scenes
Portrayed by James Caan
Roman Coppola
"Listen. I'm gonna tell you something, and he'll tell you too. When it comes to the action, I'm as good as anybody, and don't forget it."
―Sonny Corleone to Michael Corleone[src]

Santino 'Sonny' Corleone, Sr. was the eldest child of the Corleone family, known for his violent temper, compulsive aggression, and rash decisions.


Early YearsEdit

Vito and young Sonny

Young Sonny with his father in Sicily.

Sonny was the oldest, most impulsive and violent of Vito's sons and, before Michael's rise to power, the most involved in the Corleone crime family. It was he, who was supposed to head the family business after the death of Vito. Sonny, however, is not without a softer side. When he was 10, he met a homeless boy, Tom Hagen, who thereafter lived with the family. He also acted as a protector to his younger siblings, especially Connie due to the traditional fierce Sicilian affection for sisters. He once beat her husband Carlo nearly to death for hurting her.

Entering the Family BusinessEdit

As a teenager, Sonny witnessed the murders of both Fanucci and Henry Hagen by his father, and soon after became a stick-up artist along with his friend Bobby Corcoran and their gang. He also began an affair with Bobby's elder widowed sister Eileen.

The Mafia LifeEdit

Sonny was brought into his father's world of crime at the age of 16 after a botched liquor store robbery. His godfather, Peter Clemenza, had brought the matter to Vito, and Vito was far less than pleased. Unfortunately, Sonny revealed, how he had seen Fanucci's murder and Vito was helpless to protest for fear he would seem a hypocrite. Though Vito pleaded with him to finish school and get a legitimate job, Sonny insisted that he wanted to "sell olive oil". Vito knew that Sonny really wanted to learn the family business, and sent him to Clemenza for training.

Genco Abbandando originally placed Sonny as a bodyguard for his father, more so that the Don could instruct his son personally, often looking and sounding like a college professor during a lecture. Clemenza taught Sonny how to shoot and use a garrote wire, but was disappointed when Sonny preferred using the gun.

The TacticianEdit

Sonny's talent for the business was revealed when he dealt with Irish thugs during the Pacification of New York. With his father in the hospital, Sonny formed his own crew and took to the streets, showing his hidden genius for urban warfare. Like Julius Caesar or Napoleon, he was able to take block after city block with relative ease, gaining a reputation as one of the most brutal and vicious leaders and executioners in the eastern underworld, overshadowed only by his father's personal hitman Luca Brasi.

Sonny "made his bones" when he was 19 by killing his friend Bobby Corcoran, as Corcoran was wrongly suspected of attempting to kill Vito. Sonny knew that Corcoran didn't attempt to kill Vito and was in fact trying to protect Vito by shooting Stevie Dwyer, Sonny killed Corcoran anyway. Soon afterwards, he became a capo in his father's family.

The TestEdit

Upon arriving at their new home in Long Beach, the Corleones fell victim to a group of conmen, who attempted to force Vito to pay to have them fix the boiler. Vito used the situation as a test for Sonny, but was displeased with the result; his eldest son had the workmen beaten before forcing them to repair the damage. Vito summarily impressed upon Sonny that he must be "the rapier, not the club".

Family LifeEdit


Sonny at the surprise birthday party for Vito.

In 1935, Sonny married Sandra, a young Italian immigrant, and they had four children, Francesca, Kathryn, Santino, Jr. and Frank. It was said that he was a kind and loving father, and a good (but unfaithful) husband. Unusually, his infidelities did not trouble his wife, who was scared of making love due to Sonny's large "appendage".

His devotion to his father earned his nickname, Sonny, as could be seen when he attacked Michael for deciding to tell their father that he had enlisted in the Marines and left college on his birthday. Sonny believed that people who fought in the military were "saps" because they risk their lives for strangers who hated them anyway, and that "Your country ain't your blood."

Taking Over as DonEdit

"No, not this time consigliere, no more discussions, no more meetings, no more Sollozzo tricks, you give 'em one message, I want Sollozzo, if not, it's all out war, we go to the matresses!"
―Sonny Corleone[src]
Sonny beats Carlo

Sonny beats up Carlo.

The normal course of events in Sonny’s life was upturned when Virgil Sollozzo came to Don Vito with an offer of entering the drug business, backed by the Tattaglia family. While the Don does not want to enter the drug business, Sonny shows interest in the deal. This led Sollozzo to believe that if the Godfather could be taken out, Sonny would agree to work with him. An assassination attempt on the Godfather is arranged.

The assassination attempt failed but leaves the Godfather near death, although he eventually recovered. Sonny, now enraged and acting as the Corleone family's Don, prepares for an all-out war against the Tattaglias unless they agree to turn over Sollozzo. When they refuse, Sonny orders the death of Bruno Tattaglia, Don Philip Tattaglia's son, a move that cripples the Tattaglia family considerably. Michael, who had previously distanced himself from the family's criminal enterprise, volunteers to kill Sollozzo and his bodyguard, Captain McCluskey. Sonny, though impressed with his little brother's courage, is initially against the idea, thinking Michael is too inexperienced in Mafia matters. Additionally, despite his well-known violent streak, Sonny is reluctant to kill a policeman; it has long been a hard and fast rule in the American Mafia that law enforcement officials are not to be harmed. However, Michael eventually talks him into it, arguing that since McCluskey is serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard, he is fair game. Michael also knew that he would not appear suspicious to McCluskey or Sollozzo at the meeting. Michael kills both Sollozzo and McCluskey, and is sent immediately to Sicily to wait out the inevitable crackdown on the Five Families.

The Death of Sonny CorleoneEdit

"Look how they massacred my boy!"
Vito Corleone[src]
In retaliation, Tattaglia's partner and the Don of the most powerful of the Five Families, Emilio Barzini, enlisted the help of Sonny's brother-in-law, Carlo Rizzi, in setting a trap for the impulsive new Don. Sonny had recently inflicted a particularly vicious public beating on Carlo, after finding out that Carlo was abusing his wife Connie, Sonny's little sister. Sonny spared Carlo's life, as he could not bear to kill a helpless human being, and instead left him bruised and broken, with a warning that he would kill him if he ever harmed Connie again. This proved to be his downfall, as the worthless brute lived to exact his revenge.
Sonny whacked

Sonny being shot by Barzini hitmen.

To draw Sonny out into the open, Carlo inflicted a particularly vicious beating on Connie, who telephoned Sonny, begging for help. In a fit of rage, Sonny leaves the family compound unaccompanied and heads for Connie's apartment to kill Carlo. As Sonny approaches a toll plaza, a number of Barzini's men emerge from the toll booths and car ahead of Sonny's with submachine guns and viciously gun him down. The car is sprayed with bullets and though he takes several shots before he exits the car, Sonny tries to escape, only to be further riddled. He collapses in the adjacent toll lane and is shot a few more times by one of the assassins before the man kicks him in the face. He was dead at the age of thirty-one, two months short of his thirty-second birthday.

Sonny's death shocked Michael who was devastated upon hearing the news in Sicily. Vito was told the news by Tom Hagen, and had Sonny's body buried by enlisting a favour from Bonasera, the trusted undertaker. Vito then summoned a meeting of all the families on the commission and declared peace.To avenge his death, Michael killed Carlo Rizzi despite assuring Connie he would not harm him.The deaths of the bosses of Five Families were also a partial revenge for his death, though it was not the main motive. Before his death, Carlo confessed to have been approached by Barzini to help kill Sonny.

Santino's LegacyEdit

"Temper like his father..."
Michael Corleone[src]

Thirty years after Sonny died, his illegitimate son with Lucy Mancini, Vincent, began to assert himself within the family, personally eliminating family enemy Joey Zasa, before being appointed as Michael's sucessor as the Don Corleone. Sonny's legitimate children are not known to have ever played any significant role in the family.

Personality and TraitsEdit

Sonny was a short-tempered person, with severe and uncontrollable anger issues, often flying into fits of rage. Sonny was trigger-ready and saw murder as the only way out of many problems. He was impulsive and never considered the effect of his actions. He spoke unnecessarily on many occasions. 

Sonny was vengeful and murdered many people after the failed attempt on Vito's life. He loved his family and showed it with a protective attitude toward his younger brother Michael, and beating up his sister Connie's abusive husband Carlo Rizzi. He also judged many situations emotionally rather than logically. Sonny was very caring with Tom and Fredo as well. 

While a known murderer, Sonny couldn't bring himself to harm anyone he views as helpless (like women, children and people who don't fight back), which turn out to be life-saving for his wife-beating brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi. 

In the Video GamesEdit

"Nothing worth a fuck gets done except by force, or the fear of it."
―Sonny Corleone to Aldo Trapani[src]
Sonny game

Sonny Corleone in the video game.

In The Godfather: The Game, Sonny had planned to eliminate Philip and John Tattaglia but they withdrew, and Sonny assigned Tessio to eliminate the family, using rising enforcer Aldo Trapani as a hitman. Sonny and Trapani also engaged in a war against the Cuneos, attacking a distribution racket run by Artie "The Moose" Manzanero. The two Corleones seized control of the network after a long a bloody firefight, an act which sealed Sonny's fate, he was too dangerous to be allowed to live. Aldo Trapani tracked the killers to The Tunnel Club and eliminated the Tattaglias, but was unable to act further as Don Vito rose from his sickbed in order to hastily call a truce.


  • Sonny's death scene is a reminiscent of the final death scene of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in the film Bonnie and Clyde.
  • Just before Sonny is killed, he listens to a broadcast of the baseball playoff game won by Bobby Thomson hitting the Shot Heard Round the World. This would place Sonny's death on October 3, 1951, contradicting the novel by several years.
  • Sonny was named after Sonny Capone, Al Capone's son.
  • 'Sonny' is short for Santino.
  • During the video game he states to Aldo that when he is calm he is worse than when he is angry.
  • Sonny may well be based on Bill Bonanno who was been groomed by his father Joe Bonanno to be Boss of the Bonanno family and when his father disappeared he led the family in a war against rival mobsters.
  • According to James Caan, the character of Sonny was partially inspired by late comedian Don Rickles.[2]


Notes and referencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 The Godfather Supplements
  2. Elber, Lynn. "'Mr. Warmth' Don Rickles dies at 90". Pioneer Press. Digital First Media, 6 Apr. 2017. Web. 9 Apr. 2017.
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