Joe Adonis was born Giuseppe Antonio Doto in Montermarano, Italy on November 22, 1902. He managed to enter the United States illegally by stowing away on a boat in 1915 and sneaking ashore to New York City.
Once in the United States, he survived by picking pockets and stealing what he could from the wealthier people of the city. During his criminal escapades he met Charles "Lucky" Luciano, a fellow criminal. The two became very good friends over the years and graduated to bigger and better rackets, such as gambling and prostitution.
In 1920, he changed his name to "Joe Adonis" out of sheer vanity. He considered himself a very handsome man and spent a lot of time grooming himself at the mirror. He adopted the name from the Greek name that came to refer to the perfect male figure. One time, Luciano saw Adonis at the mirror combing his hair and asked, "Who do you think you are, Rudolph Valentino?" and Adonis replied, "For looks, that guy's a bum!"
Under his new name, he became a major player in New York and sought sex everywhere he could. Unfortunately not all women shared his view that he was the perfect man and he was arrested at one point for raping a woman who refused his advances.
In the 1920s, Adonis started working for mafia boss Frankie Yale, who controlled much of the criminal enterprises in Brooklyn. Luciano chose to work for Joe Masseria instead, and Adonis served as one of the four hitmen who gunned down Masseria on April 15, 1931.
Following the assassination, Luciano appointed himself head of the Masseria crime family and formed the National Crime Syndicate, uniting the crime families across the United States. Adonis was summarily placed on the board of directors for the organization and given a great deal of power. He was in charge of bribing the New York City officials to allow their criminal enterprise to operate without too much friction.
Adonis established his headquarters at his restaurant, Joe's Italian Kitchen. From there he directed prostitution, gambling, alcohol, and other operations, netting millions of dollars in profit. He even sold cars in New Jersey, then forced customers to pay him extra or find their car destroyed. He also bought vending machines and stole products to sell in them, generating a 100% profit margin.
By 1932, Adonis controlled all of Brooklyn and was untouchable despite numerous attempts by the federal government to bring him down. After Luciano was deported to Italy in 1945, Adonis took over control of the National Crime Syndicate. Despite the deportation, Luciano maintained some degree of control over the organization with Adonis' approval.
In the late 1940s, the heat was starting to come down on Joe. A member of Murder Inc., Abe Reles, became a government informant and fingered Adonis as the most powerful criminal in New York City. Adonis was called to testify before the Kefauver Committee, but cited the fifth amendment and was allowed to leave.
In 1953, the US government deported Adonis due to his lack of official citizenship and sent him to Italy. He was not terribly disappointed, however, since he was able to take his fortune with him and live like a king near Naples and Luciano. Unfortunately, his relationship with Luciano turned sour after he learned that Adonis had ceded control of the National Crime Syndicate to Vito Genovese.
On November 26, 1972, the Italian police cracked down on organized crime and arrested Adonis. They took him to a shack in the country to interrogate him, but Adonis had a heart attack and died on the spot. After a small funeral, he was buried in New Jersey.