He's played by Robert DeNiro in the film.
Who is the real Frank Sheeran? The union official with alleged mob ties was featured on the big screen (and, subsequently, Netflix) in the hit Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman, which has just been nominated for a series of Golden Globe Awards and Critics' Choice Awards.
The Irishman as a film, was certainly entertaining — and to forewarn you: long, it runs three hours and thirty minutes — but it seems that there are some discrepancies between the Hollywood tale and the real-life story.
So, let's look at what we know about this complex mob man and his rumored relative, who's a very popular Irish singer-songwriter you've probably heard of.
Some facts about Irish mobster Frank Sheeran are indisputable. He was born Francis Joseph Sheeran in Darby, Pennsylvania, and served as the president of the Teamsters Local 326 in Wilmington, DE. He was in the Army during the Second World War, where he served for America during the invasions of Sicily and Germany.
When he returned to the United States in 1945 after his discharge, he started working as a truck driver, which led him to crime boss Russell Bufolino (played by Joe Pesci in The Irishman). He died in 2003, and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetary in Yeadon, PA.
But literally nearly everything else about Frank Sheeran's life is up for debate, causing the Internet to explode following The Irishman's release about what's true and what's not. Let's look at what we know about the main protagonist of The Irishman and separate fact from fiction about the real Frank Sheeran.
1. The movie is based on a true story.
The Irishman's source material is almost exclusively drawn from I Heard You Paint Houses, a book written by Frank Sheeran's lawyer, Charles Brandt, based on what he knew about his client's claims. While one might consider the source material a "memoir" of sorts, there are more than a few inaccuracies, to say the least.
2. Frank Sheeran may have been involved in the curious case of Jimmy Hoffa.
The disappearance of former Teamster juggernaut Jimmy Hoffa has baffled law enforcement officials for decades. To this day, no one really knows what happened to Jimmy Hoffa — who killed him, when, and where, and even if he's really dead (though he's probably dead now if he wasn't before; assuming he wasn't murdered, he would be 106 years old today, as he was born on February 14, 1913).
This is what we know for certain about the death of Jimmy Hoffa: he was last seen alive on July 30th, 1975, in Detroit, Michigan. He was declared dead in 1982. Everything else — literally, everything else — is up for debate.
Now, in The Irishman, Frank Sheeran is depicted as luring Jimmy Hoffa (played in the film by Al Pacino) to a home in suburban Detroit, then shot and killed him. (In the film, Sheeran's goons then put Hoffa's body in a furnace to cremate him.) That's pretty brutal way of dying and would explain why, to date, Jimmy Hoffa's remains have never been found.
The problem is that the veracity of Sheeran's story is questionable at best. Despite Sheeran's claims of luring Hoffa to his death in Detroit, DNA evidence suggests otherwise. Naturally, there's a question as to whether Sheeran's incredible claims of being responsible for Hoffa's death are even remotely accurate (Sheeran's contemporary, John Carlyle Berkery — the head of the Irish mob for many years — put it even more simply: "he's full of s***!")
And then there's the conclusion of the original investigation into Hoffa's disappearance by the FBI, as provided in the so-called "Hoffex Memo" written all the way back in 1976. While Sheeran was considered a "close friend" of Jimmy Hoffa's (perhaps due to the shared union connection), and may (meaning, it's possible) have been involved in the plot to kill him, it was most likely Salvatore "Sally Bugs" Briguglio (played in the film by Louis Cancelmi) that pulled the trigger and caused Hoffa's demise.
3. Was Frank Sheeran really a mobster?
Frank Sheeran's claims of being heavily entrenched in "the mob" are a bit controversial as well. Back in 1985, Rudy Giuliani (who has some credibility issues, to say the least) said that Sheeran was, in fact, one of only two non-Italians on Giuliani's list of "most wanted" Mafia members.
But there are others who claim that, simply put, Frank Sheeran is nothing but a liar and wrote the book to take credit for things that he never did.
"If [Charles] Brandt [the author of I Heard You Paint Houses] had done a simple Google satellite map search of the location, he would have known his self-styled hitman was wrong," said a report. What's more, the aforementioned John Carlyle Berkery said that Frank Sheeran "never hurt a fly," which implies that he didn't kill the people he claimed to have killed.
4. Frank Sheeran did commit crimes, though.
While he may not have been anywhere near as "gangster" as he wanted the world to think, Frank Sheeran wasn't exactly a choir boy. In 1981, he was found guilty of 11 charges of labor racketeering. And, no, labor racketeering isn't a minor charge (it is, in a nutshell, fraud committed for personal enrichment), but it's nowhere near as brutal and bloody as, say, the myriad murders Sheeran claimed to have committed over the course of his "career."
He faced a maximum of 77 years in prison but ultimately served only 13 years after Charles Brandt successfully won his petition to get him out early.
5. Robert DeNiro has wanted to play Frank Sheeran for a long time.
All the way back in 2007, Robert DeNiro brought I Heard You Paint Houses to Martin Scorcese's attention. It took nearly a decade of stops and starts, with different writers and other ancillary players coming in and out of the picture (in what is known in "the business" as development hell).
But ultimately, Ted Sarandos of Netflix picked up the film and 108 days later, the film was "in the can." Scorsese, for his part, said that DeNiro was "emotionally invested" in the character of Frank Sheeran, to the point it made him "unable to speak."
6. Is Ed Sheeran really related to Frank Sheeran?
According to Stephen Graham — who played Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano in The Irishman — Ed Sheeran claimed that Frank Sheeran was his "distant uncle." (And he swore on "his nan," so you know the man meant business.) But while genealogists say that "birth, marriage, and death records in Britain and America dating back to 1845 show no direct link between the two men," there's a chance that they may be fourth cousins.
At best, Frank's great-grandfather could have been born in Ireland — where Ed's family is originally from — but that's the best one can hope for in terms of a "link" between the two men.
For what it's worth, Sheeran is a pretty common last name. The last name is found in the United States, Canada, and England. And by the time 1920 rolled around, Sheerans were found in about 35 states in the contiguous United States, with the highest concentration of Sheerans found in New York and Pennsylvania.
Bernadette Giacomazzo is an editor, writer, and photographer whose work has appeared in Teen Vogue, People, Us Weekly, The Source, XXL, HipHopDX, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, BET.com, and more.