June 11, 2002 08:45 AM

Famous, flamboyant and, some would say, fabulous — unless you crossed him — Mob boss John Gotti, 61, died of cancer Monday in a prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., after a long battle with throat cancer, reported the Associated Press. The so-called Dapper Don, so named for his $2,000 suits and his style fashioned by researching Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (he was also known as the “Teflon Don,” because it took so long for the Feds to get any of their charges against him to stick), had been behind bars for a decade, serving a life term on racketeering and murder charges relating to his ruthless rule of New York’s legendary Gambino crime family. The iron-fisted Gotti’s victims included “Big Paul” Castellano, whom he succeeded as boss of the family in 1985. Castellano was gunned down by Gotti’s guys in front of a midtown Manhattan steakhouse as, a witness later testified, the Don himself sat in a nearby car, watching. The Gambinos were reputedly the most powerful of the five New York crime families, which also included the Bonanno, Colombo, Genovese and Luchese organizations, notes Tuesday’s Washington Post. Detailing the operations of Gotti’s group, The Post says Gotti’s “family” contained 23 “crews” with 300 full members and 2,000 “associates.” As far as its businesses were concerned, besides construction and waste management they included loan-sharking, extortion and drug trafficking. Also, because Gotti thrived on attention, and dressed like a star, he captured the public’s imagination, and was possibly America’s most high-profile gangster since Al Capone.

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