Son of 'real-life Soprano' mob boss dies - peacefully

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Joseph Bonanno Jnr, younger son and namesake of the late crime chieftain who headed one of the world's most notorious crime families, has died. He was 60.

While his father ran one of the most powerful Mafia groups during the 1950s and 1960s, which became a model for The Sopranos, many expected Joe Jnr would take over the family business. But Joe Jnr had other careers in mind.

Joseph Bonanno Jnr studied animal husbandry at the University of Arizona, and later owned a 20 acre ranch in California where he raised horses. He stayed on that path most of his life, dying of a heart attack at his ranch a week ago. He and his wife of 34 years, Karen, had no children.

Bonanno was the youngest of three children born to Joseph and Fay Bonanno. At the University of Arizona, he was a bull rider and calf roper in club rodeo competition, his brother said. "Everybody loved Joe, or almost everybody. He'd give you the shirt off his back," said Bill Bonanno, 73. He said his brother was shielded from much of the family business activities. "I don't even think he knew what it was all about," Mr Bonanno said.

Not that he was entirely unknown to law-enforcement authorities. Joe Bonanno Jnr was given a 120-day jail sentence in June 1985 after pleading guilty to making a false statement during an alleged cocaine conspiracy investigation. Both sons also were charged in an alleged home improvement scam. Joe Jnr eventually pleaded no contest in a plea bargain.

How very different to his father. Derisively nicknamed "Joe Bananas,", Joe Bonanno Snr retired to Arizona in 1968 after allegedly running one of the most powerful Mafia groups during the 1950s and 1960s, though the family had lived in Tucson part-time long before that. Allegedly contributing to his retreat to Tucson was a struggle in New York among the crime families over Bonanno's reputed attempt to become the boss of bosses - a conflict that came to be known as "the Banana War".

Bonanno Snr was convicted of felony obstruction of justice in 1980 for trying to block a US grand jury investigating his sons. He was convicted on the basis of evidence that federal agents gathered by sifting through his rubbish, and served nearly eight months in a Kentucky prison.

He could, as might be expected, be an intimidating man, even when in custody. In 1999 Jeff Smith described in the Tucson Weekly an incident from when he was covering a trial of Joe Snr's: "Every day I'd show up with my notebook and Joe would show up with a roll of Life-Savers [sweets similar to Polos] and give me one. We never exchanged a word, but I got comfortable enough ... that one day I asked him if he knew who the pretty young woman who came to the courtroom every day was ... Bonanno looked out of the window for a moment, and then slowly looked back, right in my eyes, and said: "It's a very nice day today. Why don't we keep it that way?"

Paroled in 1984, the elder Bonanno later served 14 months for contempt of court after refusing to answer then-US attorney Rudolph Giuliani's questions before a trial of alleged New York crime family leaders - claiming ill health. Joe Bonanno Snr died of heart failure in 2002 at the age of 97. (AP)