Whitey Bulger was an FBI informant. His life also informed one of modern Hollywood's more-memorable crime stories.
Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" was hardly the life story of Bulger, yet the aura and influence of the Boston mob boss permeates the Academy Award-winning gangster saga.
Adapted from the Hong Kong crime tale "Infernal Affairs," 2006's "The Departed" co-stars Jack Nicholson as a Boston gang leader whose life parallels that of Bulger, the Irish mob chief arrested Wednesday after 16 years as a fugitive.
Scorsese and his collaborators say Bulger and the crime operation he ran around Boston helped localize the story and add credibility to the plot, which centers on an undercover cop who infiltrates the mob (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a policeman (Matt Damon) who's really a mole for the mob.
Bulger himself was an FBI informant, supplying information about rival New England crime crews.
In a behind-the-scenes segment about Bulger included in "The Departed" DVD release, Scorsese said that Nicholson's crime boss Frank Costello was not "directly patterned after Whitey Bulger."
"We tried to utilize the information we read about it as a kind of comfort zone to know that a lot of the stuff was factual, because if somebody had written that, I'd say, 'No, come on. It's too much,'" said Scorsese, who won the best-director Oscar for "The Departed." The film's four Oscars also included best picture.
"The Departed" remains Scorsese's top-grossing film, taking in $132.4 million domestically and nearly $300 million worldwide, and is probably how most folks know anything about the Bulger saga.
A 2002 hit in Hong Kong, "Infernal Affairs" spun a similar tale of intrigue as mob and police moles try to flush each other out. "The Departed" steeped the story in Boston lore inspired by Bulger and the city's crime underworld.
The film also had a heavy Boston connection among its cast and crew, which included city natives Damon and co-star Mark Wahlberg, along with screenwriter William Monahan.
"There's only one guy from Boston, an Irish gangster, that ran the whole thing, and that's Whitey Bulger," Wahlberg, who earned a supporting-actor Oscar nomination for his role as a fast-talking cop, said in "The Departed" DVD segment on Bulger.
"The existence of the Whitey Bulger story and the FBI corruption and so forth made the Chinese story sort of slide into Boston very easily and believably," Monahan, who won the adapted-screenplay Oscar for "The Departed," said in the DVD segment.
"Whitey was famous. Everybody just knew about him in Boston," Monahan said. "But 'The Departed' is by no means a Whitey Bulger story."