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Mr. Rizzuto died of natural causes, Maude Hébert-Chaput, a spokeswoman for Sacré-Coeur Hospital, told The Associated Press. There were widespread reports that he had been receiving treatment for lung cancer.
Working with the Bonanno crime family in New York, Mr. Rizzuto ran an international drug smuggling operation that imported heroin and cocaine and distributed it in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, the authorities said. His father ran the operation before him.
“Compared to what New York-based authorities were used to looking at, the breadth of geography and intertwining connections of the Rizzuto organization surprised even seasoned investigators,” Lee Lamothe and Adrian Humphreys wrote in the book “The Sixth Family: The Collapse of the New York Mafia and the Rise of Vito Rizzuto.”
In a 2004 column on his website, then called This Week in Gang Land, Jerry Capeci, an expert on the Mafia, compared Mr. Rizzuto to Mr. Gotti, the longtime head of the Gambino crime family in New York, who died in 2002.
“Like Gotti in his heyday, Rizzuto is known as a flashy dresser who was tough to convict,” Mr. Capeci wrote. “He beat two major drug smuggling cases between 1987 and 1990 and his only jail time was a two-year bit for arson in 1972. As a result, he has often been compared to the Dapper Don by the Montreal press, and police.”
But Mr. Rizzuto’s luck ran out in 2004, when he was arrested in Montreal on racketeering charges related to a gangland shooting in Brooklyn that inspired a bloody scene in the 1997 film “Donnie Brasco,” starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp.
In the shooting, on May 5, 1981, Mr. Rizzuto and three other men burst from the closet of a Brooklyn social club and shot three Bonanno captains who had been challenging the family’s leadership, the authorities said. The shooters wore ski masks to make the killing look like a robbery, but the authorities said it had been ordered by Joseph Massino, then a senior Bonanno captain.
Mr. Rizzuto was extradited to the United States in 2006. He pleaded guilty in 2007 and was sent to prison in Florence, Colo.
While he was in prison, organized crime in Montreal fell into chaos and many of his relatives were murdered. His father was killed by a sniper while standing in his kitchen, and his eldest son, Nicolo, was shot and killed. His brother-in-law disappeared, the keys still in the ignition of his Infiniti.
Before his death, Mr. Rizzuto had been working to reclaim control of the mob and exact revenge, experts said. Since his return to Canada in 2012, there have been nine mob-connected murders there, Mr. Capeci said on his website.
“Vito Rizzuto gets out, and this immediately happens,” Pierre de Champlain, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police intelligence analyst and author of a book about the Mafia, told The Globe and Mail after one such killing in 2012. “If it’s a coincidence, it would be a very strange one.”
Victor Rizzuto was born in the village of Cattolica Eraclea in Sicily on Feb. 21, 1946. His family moved to Canada in the mid-1950s, and Mr. Rizzuto married Giovanna Cammalleri in 1966. Survivors include his wife; a sister, Maria Renda; and two children, Leonardo and Bettina, both lawyers.
Despite the spate of killings after he left prison, Mr. Rizzuto once had a reputation as a peacemaker in mob circles.
Mr. Lamothe credited him with “bringing calm to an underworld that at times was out of control” in the 1970s by, for example, arranging an end to a dispute between the Hells Angels and a rival motorcycle gang.
“Mr. Rizzuto’s management style was pretty unique, at least compared to American crime figures, who went to violence as an instant default,” Mr. Lamothe wrote in an email. “He was born into the Mafia and, from his father, inherited the ‘Sicilian view’: Better to share than to shoot.”
Thanks to Daniel E. Slotnik.