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Buon compleanno, capo di tutti capi, in pensione. 

Birthday greetings to the capo di tutti capi.

For the gentleman from Golfo di Castellammare, number 97 will be a quiet affair at home Friday with family and close friends.

Joseph Bonanno is not as mobile as he was, say, for the bash for his 90th birthday celebrated by some 300 people at the Westward Look Resort--covered nicely, to the outrage of pious readers and its conflicted management, by the Arizona Daily Star's fresh Joe Salkowski--or when 600 gathered at the Marriott University Park for his 95th.

An only child, Bonanno was just 3 when his parents moved from Sicily to New York and 7 when they returned home near the ancient Greek ruins and other remnants of conquerors, explorers, settlers and invaders. As a boy, he would ride a pony to a temple to Artemis in Segesta. Though he was orphaned at 15, Bonanno was able to enjoy a life seemingly normal, as a schoolboy and later as a maritime college student in Palermo.

That was swept away by the seduction of the masses by Benito Mussolini and il duce's Fascists' rise. Bonanno refused to wear the black shirt. He left Sicily for good.

Though based in New York as head of the Bonanno Family, one of the five constituting the American Mafia, Bonanno planted roots in this desert more than 50 years ago. He and his beloved wife, Fay, a gracious woman who was at Sts. Peter and Paul every morning before her death in 1980, raised their children, Bill, the engaging former Mafia crew leader and author; Catherine; and Joseph Jr.

Joe Bonanno is the one, through various periods of crackdowns and mob dismantling, who managed to slip off into retirement so rare for men like him.

Time in the slammer--18 months in the early 1980s, 14 months in the mid-'80s--came only for his refusal to talk against his sons, against associates, against the Commission itself. His last stay as a guest of the Feds came after the 1983 publication of his autobiography, A Man of Honor, written with the help of a onetime Tucson Citizen reporter, Sergio Lalli.

Before he became the brash, successful media-sponge and, post 9/11, heroic mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani was a brash, media-sponge federal prosecutor, still too obscure and, says Bill Bonanno, in need of a Mafia case, just like Thomas Dewey, to get recognition.

"Before all this war on the Mafia, Mr. Giuliani needed a photo ID to go to work," Bill Bonanno says.

When doctors, both Bonanno's and the government's, said the Don was too ill to travel to New York, Giuliani succeeded in moving the court to Tucson. Giuliani looked ridiculous, suited up and with entourage, hopping off the plane in the desert to put Bonanno under oath.

He got nothing.

Bonanno has been slowed by chronic heart trouble and further enfeebled by a stroke. Knowledgeable about art, music and history, Bonanno has been essentially robbed of his passion for reading. He watches the news, uses a walker and visits with Bill once or twice a day in his midtown home.

Despite past encounters, he has joined those applauding Giuliani for his performance as mayor.

"We've had our differences with Mr. Giuliani," Bill Bonanno understates. "But that being said, we have to tip our hat to him for how he's performed. He's done wonders and deserves most of the accolades he's received."

Term limits have now forced Giuliani out of office; the Bonanno family enjoys far greater longevity.

"I guess there are a lot of people who wish we didn't have that," says Bill Bonanno, whose Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story was released in 1999.

Joseph Bonanno did what he did and is who he is, son Bill says.

This week, the fedoras tip for him.

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