By Molly Daly

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Notorious former Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo has died in a federal prison medical facility in North Carolina. He was 87.

A family attorney confirmed to CBS Philly on Sunday that Scarfo passed away Friday at the Butner Federal Prison.

Scarfo, who had been banished from Atlantic City, became head of the Philadelphia crime family in 1981 after the murders of Angelo Bruno and Phil “Chicken Man” Testa.

Veteran mob chronicler George Anastasia says Scarfo was the John Gotti of Philadelphia.

“[He was] arrogant, power-hungry,” Anastasia said. “Scarfo was very violent — a lot of people thought he was a psychopath. He was a guy who had never had power, had kind of a Napoleon complex because he was short, and when he got the power, he didn’t quite know what to do with it.”

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Scarfo did know how to lash out, ordering the killings of nearly two dozen associates.

“For Angelo Bruno, murder was a negotiating tool of last resort — when everything else failed, somebody might get whacked,” Anastasia explained. “For Scarfo, murder was a calling card.”

But Anastasia says the real tragedy of the Scarfo story is what happened to his blood family. A botched suicide attempt left his youngest son comatose for nearly 25 years; his oldest son assumed his wife’s maiden name; and his namesake is serving a 30 year prison sentence.

The hotheaded Scarfo didn’t exactly inspire loyalty. Five members of the crime family turned state’s evidence against him. In 1988, he was convicted on multiple counts of murder and extortion, among other offenses.

When he died Friday, Scarfo was serving a 55-year sentence.