Charles ‘Chuckie’ O’Brien, who was portrayed in ‘The Irishman,’ dies at 86

Charles (Chuckie) O'Brien, in a 1975 file photo.

Charles “Chuckie” O’Brien called himself Jimmy Hoffa’s foster son but for decades was thought by investigators to have been complicit in Hoffa’s disappearance — and was depicted that way by actor Jesse Plemons in last year’s film “The Irishman” about Hoffa’s demise.

O’Brien, 86, died Thursday in Boca Raton, Fla., according to his stepson Jack Goldsmith. The announcement came on a blog called “Lawfare,” co-founded by Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School.

In the film, which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, Plemons brings life to O’Brien while Al Pacino portrayed Hoffa. The crime epic also stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Romano. 

Goldsmith wrote that his stepfather apparently died of a heart attack. His blog entry grapples with one of the many mysteries surrounding Hoffa’s death — whether O’Brien turned against his father figure and played a deadly role following the legendary labor leader’s disappearance outside a restaurant in Bloomfield Township:

Chuckie was most famous for two things. In the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, he was the closest aide and near-constant companion of Jimmy Hoffa, the infamous and influential leader of the Teamsters Union.

And following Hoffa’s disappearance on July 30, 1975, Chuckie became a leading suspect when the government publicly accused him of picking up Hoffa and driving him to his death. The latter charge is, I believe, untrue. But practically everyone believed it. This accusation was repeated in story after story and book after book and, most recently, in the movie “The Irishman.” Chuckie lived the last 44 years of his life under that shadow.

Goldsmith, beginning in his college years, became estranged from his stepfather for decades. But the two reconciled, spurring Goldsmith to write the 2019 book “In Hoffa’s Shadow,” a memoir of their relationship in which the stepson tries to show that O’Brien was not involved in Hoffa’s murder.

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As he writes in his blog entry on Thursday, O’Brien knew the leading suspects well from his long association with Hoffa, and after Hoffa disappeared, O’Brien “became tragically ensnared between the government’s public accusations and pressure and the mob’s very different types of private pressure.”

Goldsmith faulted the “The Irishman” for perpetuating on film what he characterized as a tragic falsehood that forever plagued his father and distorted history.

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