The real-life story of Al Capone – the true history behind Tom Hardy biopic Capone

What is the true story behind film biopic Capone? Mad Max: Fury Road's Tom Hardy takes on the role of the notorious gangster Al "Scarface" Capone

Capone (Tom Hardy)

Peaky Blinders star Tom Hardy takes on the role of an ageing gangster in Capone, a film biopic about the last years of infamous Chicago bootlegger Al Capone.

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But who was Al Capone, and why was he famous? Did he really die after contracting syphilis? Read on for the real-life history behind the film Capone.

Who was Al Capone and what did he do?

Al Capone, Getty Images
Al Capone, Getty Images

Al “Scarface” Capone was a gangster who rose to prominence during the American Prohibition era in the 1920s, when organised crime gangs took advantage of the situation in order to make their fortunes by running bootleg businesses.

Alongside bootlegging, Capone ran prostitution rings and gambling rackets in Chicago, while controlling the city’s local politicians and officials with a mixture of bribery and intimidation.

He was responsible for “The St Valentine’s Day Massacre” in 1929, where he ordered the deaths of seven gang rivals (later reconstructed for films like Some Like It Hot), and for his brutal battering of three male employees that same year (the event was included in the 1987 film The Untouchables, in which Capone was played by Robert De Niro).

According to a newspaper article from 1936, it was claimed that Capone was responsible for the deaths of at least 33 people.  Following the Valentine’s Day Massacre, he was dubbed by authorities as “Public Enemy No. 1”.

‘The Untouchables’, an elite squad of incorruptible Prohibition Agents, finally pinned Capone down in 1931. Unable to prove murder or racketeering, they charged him with tax evasion.

Did Al Capone really go mad?

The synopsis for Capone reads, “At the age of 47, following nearly a decade of imprisonment, dementia rots Capone’s mind and his past becomes present as harrowing memories of his violent and brutal origins melt into his waking life.”

In real life, Capone was diagnosed with neurosyphilis (syphilis of the brain, when the disease infects the central nervous system) in 1938, while he was being held at the notorious prison Alcatraz. His wife successfully petitioned to have him paroled the following year, due to his reduced mental capacities.

While he was medically treated, it was too late to reverse the impact the disease had had on his brain.

He spent his last years in his Florida mansion, and in the film, he’s haunted by hallucinations and memories of his violent past. While there’s no written evidence of the real Capone experiencing flashbacks, contemporary accounts described him as behaving “childishly” due to his deteriorating mental faculties.

Tom Hardy – Capone
Tom Hardy plays Al Capone

In the film, he’s also convinced to swap his ever-present cigar for a healthier carrot, but writer/director Josh Trank has admitted that the carrot was creative license. “1,000 percent, I’m guilty of making that up,” he told USA Today.

Did Al Capone have an illegitimate child?

Capone’s illegitimate son from the film was also an invention of Trank’s, although he considers that the likelihood of him having such a child was high, given “his [Capone’s] position in this world and his line of work.”

The real-life Capone had one acknowledged child, a son called Albert Francis (played in the film by Noel Fisher), who lived to the age of 85.

How and when did Al Capone die?

Capone died age 48 on 25th January 1947, after suffering from a stroke, bronchopneumonia and later cardiac arrest over a four day period in the run-up to his death.

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You can watch the trailer for Capone, starring Tom Hardy, below: