Salvatore was born on March 12, 1945 to two Sicilian immigrants in New York City. At an early age, his dyslexia caused him trouble in school and encouraged harassment by his peers. Despite the harassment, he was able to fight back and on one occasion, several mobsters saw him take on two older boys. The mobsters nicknamed him "Sammy the Bull" because of the bullish way that he fought.
He quickly became involved with crime, joining a gang called the Rampers, who burglarized homes and stole cars. He was soon arrested for assaulting a police officer, but his lawyer was able to get him acquitted of the charges. Not long after, he was caught for burglary and given the choice of prison or joining the army. He elected for the latter and served in the army at Fort Jackson.
As soon as he got out, he returned to NYC and his gang. One day they decided to steal a car, but the owner caught them in the act and fired at them with his gun. Gravano was hit in the side of his head, but survived. He soon decided that he wanted to graduate to bigger and better things.
He met up with Thomas "Shorty" Spero and decided to join the Colombo family. He opened a club and loan sharking business with some of the money he made and donated some of his profits to the men above him for protection.
The first time he committed murder was when he received the order to kill Joseph Colucci, a member of Thomas Spero's crew. He described the experience vividly in his book, saying that he felt detached as he did it and told himself that the man wanted to kill him. He killed Colucci at point blank and made his bones.
He soon after joined the Gambino family after some trouble with the Colombos. He was taken under the wing of Salvatore "Toddo" Aurello, who was a capo. After working with the family for a while, he decided to try living a legitimate lifestyle by joining a construction company. However, he was indicted for a murder that he had nothing to do with and was forced to revert to his old lifestyle to afford a lawyer.
In 1975, he became a made member of the Gambino family. He used his connections in the construction business to gain power for himself and the family. However, unrest in the family between Paul Castellano and John Gotti eventually caused Gravano to join Gotti in whacking Castellano, the boss of the Gambino family. Gotti took over the family and made Gravano the family capo.
Castellano's former friend, Vincent Gigante, was angered by the killing of Castellano and attempted to take out Gotti. A bomb was planted in Gotti's car, but Gotti missed the meeting that day, causing his underboss Frank DeCicco to die instead. With an open position in the family, Gotti made Gravano and Ruggiero underbosses.
Gotti attracted a little too much attention from the public, causing the FBI to bear down on his organization. As a result, he was evenutally caught on tape confessing to a large number of crimes and revealing the family's dealings. Some of the recordings revealed him talking bad about Gravano and eventually Gotti started claiming that all the murders in the family were done by Gravano and that he had run wild. This convinced Gravano to flip and tell the FBI everything they wanted to know.
As a result of his testification, Gotti and a number of other mobsters were put in jail for life. Gravano was given a second life under the Witness Protection Program, an excellent deal for all the crimes he had committed. Still, Gravano wasn't satisfied and started an XTC drug ring with his family and a neo-nazi organization called the Devil Dogs. The ring ruled Arizona's drug trade until he and his family were arrested on February 24, 2000 by the authorities. He was charged with buying thousands of ecstasy pills in NY to sell in Arizona and pleaded guilty, getting twenty years in prison.
Today, Gravano is one of the most hated people in the United States since he betrayed both the mafia and the police.