Hyman Roth (1891-1960) is a fictional character, based heavily on real-life gangster Meyer Lansky, who plays a pivotal role in the film The Godfather Part II. He was portrayed by Lee Strasberg, a well-respected acting teacher, in one of his few screen roles.
As of Godfather II, Hyman Roth is a boss of the Jewish mob and has long been an associate of the Corleone family, though he is not mentioned in the first film or in the book on which it is based.
The character's original name of Hyman Suchowsky, based on Lansky's birth name of Suchowliski, is thought unsuitable for the Corleone family. Clemenza suggests "Johnny Lips" as his new name, but Vito Corleone feels that the young man should have some say in the choice. When Vito discovers that Hyman greatly admires gambler Arnold Rothstein, he is given the name Hyman Rothstein, which is later shortened to Roth. Though this scene was cut from the theatrical version of the film, the Roth character makes reference to the conversation in another scene, one that takes place much later in his life, in which he tells Michael Corleone, "I've loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919." (The original cut scene was one of the many that was restored for The Godfather Saga.)
The young Hyman Roth (who, in the theatrical release, can be spotted as the curly-haired young man outside Genco headquarters when the companys sign is being put into place), was played by John Megna, best known for his portrayal of Dill in the film To Kill a Mockingbird.
Roth worked diligently for the Corleone Family during Prohibition, and was a close friend and ally of Moe Greene, a character based on Bugsy Siegel, the "inventor" of Las Vegas. It is also suggested, however, that Vito Corleone never fully trusted Roth.
As Part II opens, Roth is based in Miami and lives like a typically quiet, middle-class Jewish man approaching old age though in reality he is by now a wealthy and very powerful crime boss. His right hand man is the Sicilian Johnny Ola, played by Dominic Chianese. Roth, though in ill health, is about to enter into an extraordinarily profitable business partnership with the corrupt Cuban government, but is thwarted by Fidel Castros Communist revolution. At about this time, Roth manipulates Michael's brother Fredo into giving him information he uses to make an attempt on Michael's life.
During the last night of Batista's leadership, Michael, who has known that Roth has betrayed him, decides that "Roth [would] not see the New Year". After ordering the murder of Johnny Ola in the same night, Michael has his bodyguard try to kill Roth. Roth is ill and lying in bed when Michael's bodyguard sneaks in and tries to suffocate Roth with a pillow. Fortunately for Roth, members of the military storm the hospital and kill the bodyguard.
By the end of the movie, Roth publicly states that he wishes to retire and live the twilight of his life in Israel which is a sign that he gives up the feud against the Corleones. But Michael is not satisfied yet. As Roth returns from Israel, having had his request to live there "as a Jew in the twilight of [his] life" refused by the Israeli High Court, he arrives at the airport and prepares to be taken into federal custody in the U.S. However, he is assassinated by Corleone caporegime Rocco Lampone, posing as a reporter, who is in turn shot by police as he attempts to flee the scene. The camera shot of Roth's last moments of life is based on a photograph of Meyer Lansky taken in his old age. The staging of his assassination also appears to have been based on Jack Ruby's assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, including Rocco's posing as a reporter.