Santino 'Sonny' Corleone, Sr. is a fictional character from the novel and movie series The Godfather, where he was the eldest child of the Corleone family, known for his temper, compulsive aggression, and rash decisions.
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 Business
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 Life
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 wants 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 a gun to a strangulation wire.
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.
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".
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 Don
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 of the way, 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. 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 kills both Sollozzo and McCluskey, and is sent immediately to Sicily to wait out the inevitable crackdown on the Five Families. Bruno Tattaglia is also killed. This action was seen as an uneccesary act of retaliation by his caporegimes, but in fact Sonny's actions nearly crippled the Tattaglias.
The Death of Sonny Corleone
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 hit Connie again. This proved to be his downfall, as the worthless brute lived to exact his revenge.
To draw Sonny out into the open, Rizzi 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 Rizzi. 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 after spraying his car with lead, forcing the wounded Sonny to make an attempt at a hasty retreat, but he is shot in the head whilst trying to escape. He was dead at the age of thirty-one, two months short of his thirty-second birthday.
Sonny's death shocked Micheal who was devastated upon hearing the news in Sicily. Vito was told the news by Tom Hagen.Vito 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, Rizzi confessed to have been approached by Barzini to help kill Sonny.