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Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
~ Michael Corleone, one of the most famous movie quotes of all time.

Michael Corleone is a fictional character in Mario Puzo's novels, The Godfather and The Sicilian. He is also the main protagonist of the Godfather film trilogy that was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, in which he was portrayed by Al Pacino, who was twice nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal (Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather, and Best Actor for The Godfather Part II). Pacino also played Tony Montana, and Vincent Hanna.

Corleone, as portrayed by Pacino, was recognized as the 11th most iconic villain in film history by the American Film Institute, although some critics consider Michael Corleone to be a tragic hero.

Michael is the youngest son of Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando in The Godfather and Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II). He is the younger brother of Santino "Sonny" (James Caan) and Frederico "Fredo" (John Cazale), and the older brother of Constanzia "Connie" (Talia Shire).

Though Michael is seen by people as a tragic hero, he is mostly a villain in the movies, and his moral is tested at the limit in Godfather part II. The only hero side of him is that he is a tragic hero.

Early life

Born in 1920, Michael is the youngest son of Mafia Don Vito Corleone and his wife, Carmela. He has two older brothers, Santino "Sonny" Corleone and Frederico "Fredo" Corleoneand a younger sister, Constanzia "Connie" Corleone. The family consigliere, Tom Hagen, is Michael's informal adoptive brother.

Michael originally wanted nothing to do with his father's business, and instead signed up with the marines - separating from his family at the time being.

The Godfather

Michael is introduced in The Godfather as a young man in his mid-20s. He initially wants nothing to do with the Corleones' "family business," and as the story opens, we learn that he had enrolled at Dartmouth College in order to escape the Corleone legacy. After the United States enters World War II in 1941, he drops out to enlist in the Marine Corps and fights in the Pacific, despite his father's misgivings. Michael is awarded the Navy Cross for bravery and is featured in Life magazine in 1944.

Michael is discharged as a captain in early 1945 to recover from his wounds. He reenters Dartmouth, where he meets his future wife, Kay Adams. However, when his father is nearly assassinated in late 1945, he is thrust back into the world he has avoided for so long; he reaffirms his loyalty at his father's bedside, and volunteers to kill both the men responsible, drug kingpin Virgil Sollozzo and corrupt police captain Mark McCluskey.

Sonny, who is running the family in their father's absence, is surprised that Michael is willing to go this far after years of wanting nothing to do with the family, especially that Michael is willing to kill a cop; it has long been a hard and fast rule in the Mafia that policemen are not to be harmed. However, Michael argues that since McCluskey is serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard, he has crossed into their world and is fair game. Sonny agrees, and Michael kills both men at a restaurant.

Following the murders, Michael flees to Sicily, where he lives for two years under the watch of family friend Don Tommasino. While there, he falls in love with and soon marries a beautiful young woman named Apollonia. However, she is killed by a car bomb intended for Michael, planted by a corrupt bodyguard.

While in Sicily, Michael learns that Sonny has been murdered. Michael returns to New York around 1950 and becomes fully involved in the family's criminal enterprises, taking Sonny's role as Vito's heir apparent. He marries Kay a year later. Michael tried to buy out casino owner Moe Greene's stake in the casino, intending to move his family to Nevada.

After his father goes into semi-retirement in 1954, Michael becomes operating head of the family, officially becoming Don after his father's death in 1955. Before his death, Vito had warned Michael that the head of the rival Barzini family would make an attempt on Michael's life under the pretence of organizing a meeting to make peace between the two families. After his father's caporegime Salvatore Tessio inadvertently reveals that he had conspired with Emilio Barzini against him, Michael arranges the murders of the leaders of the New York Mafia's other ruling families Dons: Emilio Barzini, Phillip Tattaglia, Carmine Cuneo, and Victor Stracci, as well as Greene, Tessio, and Carlo Rizzi, his brother-in-law, who had earlier set Sonny up to be murdered. In one stroke, Michael reestablishes the Corleone family as the most powerful crime family in the nation and makes a reputation for himself as being even more cunning and ruthless than his father.

When Connie finds out that Michael had Carlo killed while he stood godfather to their son, she flies into a rage. Michael dismisses this as hysteria, and when pressed by Kay, denies any involvement in the murder. Moments later, however, Michael meets with his capos, where Clemenza greets him as "Don Corleone" and kisses his hand much as he did with his father. Another capo kisses Michael's hand as well... Unbeknownst to Michael, Kay is watching this meeting. She realizes that Connie was telling the truth after all — and that her husband has become the new Don Corleone.

The Godfather Part II

In The Godfather Part II, set three years after the move to Nevada, (1958) Michael is now in his late-30s and fully established as the head of the Corleone empire. Frank Pentangeli, head of the former Clemenza regime, now runs the family's business in New York. Michael's efforts at redeeming the family have been largely unsuccessful, however, because his many enemies have kept him involved in the criminal underworld. Michael has begun to work out a deal with business partner and rival Hyman Roth over control of casino operations. However, Roth manipulates Michael's brother Fredo into unwittingly providing him with information that is used to arrange an attempt on Michael's life. Roth also attempts to murder Pentangeli while convincing the capo that Michael was to blame.

Michael, Fredo and Roth travel to Cuba under Fulgencio Batista to forge a partnership with the Cuban government that will allow them to be free to conduct their operations in Cuba without interference from the authorities, in return for generous payments to Batista. While in Cuba, Michael sends his bodyguard to eliminate Roth on New Year's Eve, but the plan fails because the old man is hospitalized. That night, Michael discovers that Fredo had conspired with Roth. During the New Year's Eve festivities, victorious rebel forces enter Havana, forcing Batista into exile and the crime bosses out of the country, their plans in Cuba ruined. Fredo, afraid of his brother, refuses to flee with Michael. Roth, meanwhile, flees to Miami.

Back in the U.S., Michael meets with Fredo, who reveals that Roth's right-hand man, Johnny Ola, had promised to make him rich independently of the family if he informed on Michael and that he withheld key information about the Senate investigation. He also reveals that he has always resented his brother, and feels he should have taken over the family after their father's death. Michael disowns Fredo, and tells bodyguard Al Neri that nothing is to happen to his brother while their mother is alive; the implication is that, once she dies, Neri is to murder Fredo.

Meanwhile, Pentangeli had been persuaded to testify against Michael in the Senate's investigation of organized crime. However, Michael arranges for Pentageli's brother Vincenzo to travel from Sicily to attend the hearings. Seeing his brother in the hearing room and understanding the threat, Pentageli renounces his earlier sworn statements, throwing the hearings into chaos and effectively ending the government's case against Michael.

By now, Kay has realized that Michael will always live in a world of crime and violence and decides to leave him and take the children with her. Michael begs her to reconsider, but an unmodified Kay reveals that what she had initially told Michael was a miscarriage was, in fact, an abortion; she tells Michael that she doesn't want to risk giving birth to another son. Enraged, Michael hits Kay in the face and banishes her from the family; they divorce later that year, with Michael keeping custody of the children.

Following the death of their mother, and at the behest of his sister Connie, Michael appears to reconcile with his brother. It is only a ploy to draw him in, however; soon afterwards, Neri murders Fredo on Michael's orders. This act haunts Michael for the rest of his life and further alienates him from Kay and his son, Anthony.

At the same time, Michael sends Tom Hagen to convince Pentageli to commit suicide in order to spare revenge against the rest of his family and sends Rocco Lampone to kill a heavily-guarded Roth at JFK International Airport upon his return to the U.S.

The Godfather Part III

The Godfather Part III, set in 1979-80, an aging Michael has taken great steps to make the family legitimate, preparing to hand over his interests in gambling to the other Mafia families, setting up a charitable foundation, and even being recognized by the Vatican for his good works. This new connection to the Church gives Michael the opportunity to purchase a controlling stake in the large property company, Immobiliare. He also begins to rekindle his relationship with Kay, and begins grooming Sonny's illegitimate son Vincent Mancini as the new head of the family business. The relationship is not without friction, however; Michael is deeply troubled by his beloved daughter Mary's romance with Vincent, fearing that it will put her in danger.

On the night Michael announces that he dissolving his gambling empire, one of his enforcers, Joey Zasa, wipes out most of The Commission in an elaborate helicopter attack in Atlantic City; Michael and his old friend Don Altobello escape with Vincent's help. Traumatized by the attack, Michael has a diabetic stroke, leaving him briefly incapacitated; in his absence, Connie gives Vincent and Neri the go-ahead to kill Zasa.

Michael soon discovers that Immobiliare, specifically the wily Licio Lucchesi and the scheming Archbishop Gilday, are out to fleece him, and he seeks the assistance of Don Tommasino. Tommasino directs him to Cardinal Lamberto (the future Pope John Paul I), to whom Michael makes his first confession in 30 years, breaking down in tears when admitting that he ordered Fredo's murder. Lamberto tells Michael that it is just that he suffers for his terrible sins, but that he still has a chance for redemption.

Michael later returns to Sicily to watch Anthony perform at the Teatro Massimo. However, he soon becomes aware of an assassin, Mosca, whom Altobello, in league with the plotters, had hired to kill him. Mosca kills Tommasino, and Michael vows before his old friend's coffin to sin no more.

Soon afterward, weary of the bloody, lonely life of a Don, Michael retires and made his nephew the new head of the family, on condition that he end the relationship with Mary. Realising that powerful interests in Italian politics and business were working to prevent the family's takeover of Immobiliare, Michael, with Vincent's assistance, once again prepares to move against his enemies. This bloody wave of murders takes place as Michael, reconciled with Kay and Anthony, watches his son perform in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana. That same night, however, Mosca inadvertently kills Mary in an assassination attempt on her father. Mary's death breaks Michael's spirit, and he cries out in agony over her corpse. He retires to Sicily, where he dies years later, completely alone. (According to a timeline graphic included in a The Godfather DVD box set, Michael Corleone's death occurs in 1997.)

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