Syphilis and Al Capone: The Disease That Took Down the Most Notorious Crime Boss

But, this time, with a peculiar and a more interesting perspective. 

With the latest release Fonzo, starring Tom Hardy as Al Capone, we get to see the Chicago crime boss and his final battle with syphilis. The once-formidable man is psychologically scarred at an early age from a disease he was too ashamed to admit he had. He died at 48 years of age in 1947. 

Josh Trank, the director of the movie, called it an “impressionistic film”, capable of becoming a 20th-century icon. 

But, like any other movie plots, the stories can get exaggerated. The question is, did syphilis scar Capone’s mental health for good? How did it really affect him? Here, we will shed some light on the portrayal of syphilis in Al Capone based on the Fonzo movie. 

How Did Al Capone Contract Syphilis?

The crime boss was married to Mae, played by Linda Cardellini. However, he continued having multiple affairs while he dabbled in organized crime. But, he didn’t contract the disease in his adulthood. On the contrary, he got it when he was much younger. Capone contracted the infection as a teen, probably from a sex worker while he still lived in Brooklyn. 

Did Al Capone Get Treatment for Syphilis?

There are many rumors and speculations about what happened to Al Capone. Some are saying he developed a particular phobia of needles, which is why he didn’t get treatment. But, according to an Al Capone biography by Deirdre Bair, that’s just a myth.

What we do know is that Capone kept his condition hidden until he was diagnosed in prison. The movie starts by focusing on his deteriorated mental health and the symptoms he experienced in prison.

Did Syphilis Really Take a Toll on Al Capone?

When penicillin was discovered back in 1928, syphilis was an easily treatable infection. But, before the drug was identified, the disease was the most painful and foul infection to deal with. Al Capone was born in 1899. He contracted the infection before treatment became available.

Back then, syphilis was marked in three separate stages. The first one was characterized by developing a chancre in the infected area.  The second stage was marked by the symptoms of the flu and rash. Then, for minorities, the disease could re-appear decades after the patient was infected and cause serious brain damage and even death. 

This is exactly what happened to the crime boss. Despite the millions of dollars in his pockets, Capone’s life was hardly easy. Syphilis destroyed his emotional and physical well-being. 

His condition worsened over time while in prison, eventually crumbling his overall health completely. He developed neurosyphilis, which affected his central nervous system and ensured his early prison release.

Even though the infection served as a free “getaway” card, it rendered his heart weak causing heart failure and death.


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