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How Infamous Mobster Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano Got His Nickname — as a Child Growing Up in Brooklyn

mob sammy bull nickname gang
Source: FBI(2)

Jun. 11 2024, Published 10:02 a.m. ET

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Notorious gangsters are often identified by their monikers. From “Abbadabba” to “Zoppo,” the key players in the criminal underworld are referred to not by the names on their birth certificates but by a nickname they gained during their nefarious careers.

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Whether they liked the name they gained or not, the aliases became a part of their identity, including amongst their peers and in the media.

“Sammy the Bull” reportedly has never minded his nickname. In fact, “Sammy the Bull” is one of the most transparent gangsters today. He previously shared details of his life via his “Our Thing” podcast and participated in several public media projects to help demystify and “de-Hollywood” what mob life is really like.

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Salvatore Gravano was born in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood on March 12, 1945, to and Kay Gravano.The neighborhood was predominantly Italian-American at the time, with the Gravanos hailing from Sicily. Mobsters were a constant factor in the neighborhood, though in Sammy’s experience, it was just part of the way of life.

In an interview with, Gravano noted his father was a huge influence in his upbringing, and the lessons he learned as a child stick with him even today.

“I’m a little different than the ordinary gangster.Right? I have compassion," he said, adding, “People will choke on that, But I do… I just do these things instinctively.”

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Gravano credits his father’s lessons, from sharing in Jewish holidays with the neighbors to lending a hand with chores throughout the neighborhood, for this almost instinctive compassion.

He notes, however, that there was plenty of strife in his childhood, as well. Today, he knows that he is severely dyslexic, but as a child, he recalls that “no one really did anything” about his condition.


In Peter Maas’ book Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano’s Story of Life in the Mafia, Gravano explains he was held back in the fourth grade. He was mercilessly mocked by other children his age for his inability to read or understand schoolwork. He learned to respond with his fists and defended himself with violence.

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The altercation that earned Gravano his now famous nickname occurred when he was 10 years old and a group of older children tried to steal his bicycle. Gravano confronted the bullies and fought them all at once. A group of neighborhood regular mobsters commented that he fought the older children off “like a bull.”

The description quickly made its rounds in the tight-knit community, and by the time Gravano joined the Bensonhurst street gang known as the Rampers, the nickname “The Bull” was already in place. Gravano was now on his way towards gangster stardom.

Eventually, “The Bull” would be sworn in the Cosa Nostra and participated in the takeover and removal of Paul Castellano. He claims to be responsible for at least 19 mob-related murders, starting with his first kill in 1970 for the Colombo family.

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Following his arrest alongside the notorious mobster John Gotti in December 1990, Gravano became notorious for a different reason — he flipped. Gravano received a highly reduced sentence for all of his crimes in exchange for cooperating in the conviction of Gotti.

Today, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, now 79, does what he likes best — he talks. He lives in Phoenix and spends his time sharing real-life stories about the mafia. As noted in his interview, he wants to share a realistic version of what mob life is really like, removing the Hollywood shine and getting down to the facts.

“Follow my story, you hear about more than 22 years in prison. Go ahead. Want to get shot in the back of the head by one of your best friends? Go ahead. You want to shoot your friend? Go ahead,” Gravano said. “It's your life, right? I'm not telling people what to do.”


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