New York police detective

Born: July 21, 1930;

Died: January 22, 2020.

SONNY Grosso, who has died aged 89, was one of two maverick New York police detectives who inspired the Oscar-winning 1971 film, The French Connection.

The characters of Buddy Russo and the hot-headed Popeye Doyle were fictionalised versions of Grosso and his partner Eddie Egan respectively. They were played by Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman, while Grosso and Egan served as technical advisers and made cameo appearances in the film.

Grosso got a taste for film-making and went on to carve out a second career in film and TV, initially as a technical advisor on The Godfather (1972) and the hit television series Kojak (1973-74) and then as a producer, working on a string of television cop shows, including one inspired by the 1986 film, The Big Easy.

There seems little doubt that Salvatore Anthony Grosso, the son of a truck driver, was born into an Italian-American family - as the name might suggest - in Manhattan, New York, although some websites suggest he was from Dusseldorf in Germany.

After joining the NYPD he was fast-tracked for promotion. There were problems when he was paired with Egan, who cared little for popularity or rules. Other officers left dogs’ dirt in Egan’s locker. “I had to talk to these guys,” Grosso said. “I told them, ‘I know you guys got a problem with him, but this is like a broad I’m married to; maybe you don’t like her but she’s my wife so you gotta show respect.’”

Serious crime was at record levels. “It was a war then, and you had to act differently,” he said.

“The junk epidemic was bursting out of Harlem. That’s why Eddie acted crazier than the people we were chasing. He had one philosophy - ‘It’s our job to put the bad guys in jail; don’t worry about the prosecutors and the judges…’ Those days we were just allowed to be cops.”

They got their break on “The French Connection” case when they spotted drug dealers in a nightclub entertaining an unidentified man. They wound up checking out a Buick Invicta they thought might be used to smuggle drugs, but could not find any.

However, Grosso spotted a discrepancy in shipping records and realised the car weighed more than 100 lbs more than it should. They took it apart and found what was then a record haul of heroin. Their story was recounted in the book The French Connection (1969), which was quickly adapted as the Hollywood movie, though the names were changed.

When, later, he advised on The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it was actually Grosso’s own personal Colt handgun that Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) retrieves from a restaurant toilet to shoot a rival gangster and a corrupt police officer.

After a highly decorated, but occasionally bumpy 22 years, Grosso retired from the police in 1976 and played Frank Sinatra’s sidekick in the 1977 TV movie Contract on Cherry Street. He worked mainly as a TV producer, though few of his shows had a lasting impact. Oddly, his credits do include Pee-wee’s Playhouse (1986), with Pee-wee Herman.

Egan died of cancer in 1995. Grosso is survived by his long-term partner Christina Kraus and four children.