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Criminals

Mickey Cohen - Los Angeles Gangster

West Coast gangster who partnered with Bugsy Siegel and palled around with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Richard Nixon

Born: September 4, 1913 - Brooklyn, New York
Died: July 29, 1976 - Los Angeles, California

Mickey Cohen - The Boxer
Mickey Cohen - The Boxer
When Meyer "Mickey" Cohen was six years old his family moved out of Brooklyn and headed to Los Angeles to live in what was formerly the Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Although almost 100% Hispanic today, the neighborhood was once home to the famous Jewish delicatessen, Canters. His parents ran a pharmacy but at an early age Mickey was already delivering booze for his older brother, a gin mill operator. He also sold newspapers from a street corner. Evidently he was hustling from the get go.

Later on he became passionate about boxing and started competing in illegal prize fights in Los Angeles. At 15 he left for New York to begin a career as a professional boxer. He was soon matched up against fighters such as Patsy Farr, Chalky Wright and Baby Arizmendi. With a less than stellar record of 76 wins, 29 losses and 16 draws, Cohen hung up his gloves in 1933.

Cohen moved to Chicago and became an enforcer in Al Capone's gang. He also began running card games and engaging in other illegal activities. While there he survived arrests, prison and at least one assassination attempt. After this attempt on his life he moved back Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, Cohen partnered with Bugsy Siegel acting as the extension of the East Coast syndicate. There they controlled narcotics, gambling and union operations. Cohen also helped Siegel create and then run The Flamingo Hotel.

After Siegel's murder in 1947, Cohen became the top West Coast mobster although not to the liking of rival Jack Dragna who had made his way back to Los Angeles after Siegel's death. During the wars between Cohen and Dragna, he survived numerous attempts on his life and even a bombing of his Brentwood house.

One of his bodyguard's was infamous mobster Johnny Stompanato, who was murdered by Lana Turner's daughter. Cohen himself was said to have bedded numerous Hollywood starlets including Ava Gardner.

Mickey Cohen - The Gangster
Mickey Cohen - The Gangster

In the early 1950's after being investigated by the Kefauver Commission, Cohen was sentenced to four years in prison for tax evasion. After his release he became a media celebrity, even appearing on the Mike Wallace show in the late 1950s. In 1961 he was again convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 15 years. First sent to Alcatraz, he was soon attacked with a lead pipe by another inmate, causing Cohen's partial paralysis.

After his final release from prison in 1972, Cohen came to be thought of as an elder statesman and "gentleman mobster." He associated with luminaries such as Richard Nixon, Sammy Davis Jr, Billy Graham and Randolph Hearst, even appearing on the Merv Griffin Show, although, no doubt, still engaging in nefarious activities.

Cohen died in 1976 of natural causes.

See also: Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel

Interesting Facts
  • Mickey Cohen never drank alcohol or smoked.
  • Was played by Harvey Keitel in the 1991 movie Bugsy.
Further Reading
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