Mr. O’Brien was 9 when he first met Hoffa.
“When he flashed his heartwarming smile at me,” Mr. O’Brien said in an interview for Professor Goldsmith’s book, “I knew we were going to be close.”
He was sometimes described as Hoffa’s foster son or as having been raised by him, but Professor Goldsmith, in his book, said neither was true. Yet Mr. O’Brien did spend considerable time with Hoffa and his family and helped organize picket lines and other union activities while still a boy. After he graduated from Glennon High School in Kansas City in 1952 and married Mary Ann Giaramita, he settled in Michigan, where Hoffa was by then a top state Teamsters official. Eventually he persuaded Hoffa to hire him as an organizer.
Mr. O’Brien became Hoffa’s trusted assistant; Mario Puzo once said he modeled the character Tom Hagen in “The Godfather” — the “consigliere” — after what he had heard about him. Mr. O’Brien himself, though, played down his advisory role. “I didn’t advise Hoffa — he advised me,” he said.
“I’d be with him,” he said. “If something had to be done, I did it.”
Mr. O’Brien accompanied Hoffa in 1967 when he reported to the federal authorities to begin serving a prison sentence on bribery and fraud convictions. President Richard M. Nixon commuted Hoffa’s sentence in late 1971. His disappearance four years later was often thought to be related to his efforts to return to power in the union.
Mr. O’Brien’s first marriage ended in divorce. In 1975, just weeks before Hoffa disappeared, he married Brenda Berger, Professor Goldsmith’s mother. They divorced in the 1980s but continued to live together until Mr. O’Brien’s death, Professor Goldsmith said.
In addition to him, Mr. O’Brien is survived by two children from his first marriage, Charles and Josephine; two other stepsons, Brett Berger O’Brien and Steven Carter O’Brien; and several grandchildren.
In his recent Times essay, Professor Goldsmith said that Mr. O’Brien had given him a rather blunt assessment of “The Irishman” and its resurrection of the old allegations. “One of the greatest fake movies I ever saw,” he called it.
He added, according to Professor Goldsmith: “Hollywood could turn a monkey into a peanut. That’s their business. They don’t care about the truth. It’s entertainment.”
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