The Life We Chose

William “Big Billy” D'Elia and the Last Secrets of America's Most Powerful Mafia Family


The Life We Chose—an unforgettable story. A really great read.” —Nicholas Pileggi, author of Wiseguy and Casino and screenwriter of Goodfellas

From Matt Birkbeck—investigative journalist and executive producer of Netflix’s #1 movie Girl in the Picture—a revelatory father/surrogate son story that takes readers deep inside the inner workings of the mob through the eyes of William “Big Billy” D’Elia, the right-hand man to legendary mafia kingpin Russell Bufalino, who ran organized crime in the US for more than fifty years.

William “Big Billy” D’Elia is Mafia royalty.

The “adopted” son of legendary organized crime boss Russell Bufalino, for decades D’Elia had unequaled access to the man the FBI and US Justice Department considered one of the leading organized crime figures in the United States. But the government had no real idea as to the breadth of Bufalino’s power and influence—or that it was Bufalino, from his bucolic home base in Pittston, Pennsylvania, who reigned over the five families in New York and other organized crime families throughout the country.

For nearly thirty years, D’Elia was at Bufalino’s side, and “Russ’s son” was a witness and participant to major historical events that have stymied law enforcement, perplexed journalists, and produced false and wild narratives in books and movies—not the least of which being the infamous disappearance of union boss Jimmy Hoffa. In addition, their reach was illustrated by their relationships with Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Michael Jackson, Suge Knight, and many other celebrities and personalities.

D’Elia became the de facto leader of the Bufalino family upon Russell Bufalino’s imprisonment in 1979, and he officially took control upon Bufalino’s death in 1994 until his arrest in 2006, when he was charged with money laundering and the attempted murder of a witness. He pled guilty to money laundering and witness tampering and was released from federal prison in 2012.

Candid and unapologetic, D’Elia is finally ready to reveal the real story behind the myths and in so doing paints a complicated, compelling, and stunning portrait of crime, power, money, and finally, family.

About the author(s)

Matt Birkbeck is an award-winning investigative journalist and author of Deconstructing SammyThe Quiet Don, and A Deadly Secret. He is also the executive producer of the hit Netflix film Girl in the Picture, which is based on his books A Beautiful Child and Finding Sharon. A former newspaper reporter and correspondent for People magazine, he’s also written features for Reader’s DigestPlayboyThe New York TimesPhiladelphia Inquirer, and Boston Magazine, among others. He lives in Pennsylvania.


The Life We Chose—an unforgettable story. A really great read.”  — Nicholas Pileggi, author of Wiseguy and Casino, and screenwriter of Goodfellas

“Mentored by one of the best in the business, Billy D'Elia did it all. Mafia diplomat, underworld entrepreneur. The Life We Chose is a riveting, extraordinary account of one of the last twentieth-century goodfellas."  — George Anastasia, author of The Last Gangster and Blood and Honor

 "It’s impossible to make up a mafia story like The Life We Chose. All the power play from The Godfather and The Sopranos with one key difference: it’s true. The Life We Chose is an unbelievable, truly great book.”  — Jan Stocklassa, bestselling author of The Man Who Played with Fire

The Life We Chose is a rip-roaring tear through the Mob’s heyday in America. Peppered with larger-than-life names like Jimmy Hoffa and Marlon Brando, Michael Jackson and Suge Knight, Crazy Joe Gallo and John Gotti, The Life We Chose is spellbinding. True-crime writing at its very best.”
Douglas Century, New York Times bestselling author of Takedown: The Fall of the Last Mafia Empire

“A fresh tale of ‘mafia royalty.’ . . . An eye-opening look at the ordinary—and nasty and lethal—business of organized crime.” — Kirkus Reviews

“These historical figures [Muhammad Ali and Johnny Unitas] have something in common—both did favors for a man once considered one of the country’s most powerful mob bosses . . . The book is a revelation about the power and influence Bufalino and D’Elia quietly wielded from their small Pennsylvania town on American society—from the streets to the stage to the stadiums.” — Washington Times

“[D'Elia] is baring all, offering a candid, unfiltered, and fascinating account of what it was really like to be a part of one of history’s most powerful mobs.” — Town & Country, The 41 Must-Read Books of Summer 2023 (#9)

The Life We Chose provides an unprecedented insider’s account of the history of the American Mafia since the 1950s, breaking new ground all along the way. It’s a chilling and yet astonishingly intimate look at the lives of powerful crime boss Russell Bufalino and his successor, Billy D’Elia.” — Paul Moses, author of The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia

“D’Elia has now put it all on the record in an intriguing and entertaining new book . . . The Life We Chose is a one-of-kind historical document.” — JerseyMan Magazine

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