Joseph Colombo was born on an unknown date in 1914. In his younger years, Colombo served in the US Coast Guard during World War 2. He wasn't exactly the model crew member and was given a medical discharge for reason of psychoneurosis. He was allowed to collect a disability pension and found a job on the docks of New York, fixing dice games and muscling anyone that got in his way.
Colombo also worked at Pride Meat Co., which was owned by Paul Gambino, the brother of Carlo Gambino. Gambino took Colombo under his wing and showed him the ways of the mafia and the potential that Colombo had in crime.
After some time, he was allowed into the Profaci Crime Family and had become a made man in the late 1950s. He was known for his oozing charisma and wild flair, easily gaining respect among other wiseguys. Although he appeared a gentleman on the outside, Colombo could fly into intense rages at the slightest insult.
Colombo made a strong name for himself in the family and was promoted to Capo in the early 1960s. He led a hit squad that killed fifteen enemies of the family over a few years. When Joseph Profaci died of cancer in 1962, his brother-in-law, Guiseppe Magliocco took over the family officially, although Joseph Bonanno was the real man in power. Bonanno had high ambitions and wanted to strongarm all of the other families into letting him become the "boss of bosses". He called on Colombo to take out Carlo Gambino, Thomas Lucchese, and Stefano Magaddino, all of whom stood in his way.
Colombo went to see Carlo Gambino and told him everything about Bonanno's ambitions. Gambino called a meeting of the families in which Bonanno and Magliocco were to stand trial. Only Magliocco showed up at the meeting and was fined $50,000 and forced to retire from crime. Carlo Gambino put intense pressure on the commission set up by the families to appoint Colombo as head of the Profaci family. It was approved, making Colombo boss of the Profaci family at only 40 years of age (the youngest in American history).
He became a very successful boss and made a large amount of profit throughout the 1960s. On April 30, 1970, the FBI arrested his son, Joe Jr., charging him with illegally melting $500,000 worth of U.S. coins containing silver. Colombo formed a group to picket the FBI office in New York, accusing them of harassing Italian Americans. Things got serious when he made it an official organization, called the Italian American Civil Rights League, and made himself the boss.
The FBI began watching Colombo much more closely and now changed the name of the family to the Colombo Family from the Profaci Family. On June 29, 1970, the organization held a large rally at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Over 50,000 people turned up to rally for the cause and raised a lot of funding. In November, another rally was held at Madison Square Garden with performances by Frank Sinatra and other singers, raising more than $500,000 for the organization. However, most people were not aware that the funding was going directly to the Colombo Family for criminal activities.
By 1980, the organization had 150,000 members with 50 chapters nationwide, which raised more than a million dollars. In March of 1971, Colombo was pronounced "Man of the Year" by the organization . On June 28th, 1970, Colombo was driven to Columbus Circle for another rally and walked to the stage. As he approached, a young man with a video camera moved close to him and suddenly dropped the camera, brandishing a pistol. Colombo was shot three times in the neck and head at point blank range. The man turned out to be Jerome Johnson and was subsequently killed by the police officers at the rally.
Colombo was rushed to the hospital and was able to survive his wounds. However, his mental state never recovered and he lived as a vegetable until his death on May 23, 1978 at his estate.