Grosso grew up in New York City, and joined the NYPD. He was smart and had an aptitude for the work: he set a record for his speed from rookie to detective. And that’s where he really made his mark: Grosso and his detective partner Eddie Egan, acted on a hunch and followed some drug dealers they spotted. They knew that 80 percent of the heroin coming into the U.S. came through France, and the dealers unwittingly led them to their source: a Frenchman. They seized 100 pounds of heroin, the largest such seizure at that time — 1961. Grosso “made that case,” confirms NYPD’s Randy Jurgenson, who worked with Grosso. Robin Moore wrote a book about the case, published in 1969. The title: The French Connection, which was made into a 1971 film of the same name, but more fictionalized. Grosso and Egan, still employed by NYPD, played small (and uncredited) roles as detectives in the film. In fact, Egan’s part was bigger, but that was OK: Grosso was a technical advisor for the production. Roy Scheider played the part based on Grosso; Gene Hackman played the character based on Egan.
Grosso retired after 22 years on the force in part to continue working in film and TV, mainly for police-related productions (though he was also a producer for Pee-wee’s Playhouse, of all things!) He was so prevalent as a technical advisor for police dramas that he “helped revolutionize” that subspecialty, including for The Godfather (1972). “Sonny Grosso has had a hand in most of the major cop films and television series of the 1970s,” says film critic James Monaco, jokingly adding that someday, scholars would discuss the “Grossovian subtexts” in that era’s police dramas. Grosso went on to co-create (and serve as executive producer for) Night Heat (1985-1989), and was an executive producer for True Blue (1989-1990), Top Cops (1990-1993), Secret Service (1992-1993), and a few dozen more. Interviewed on the set of NY70, a 2005 TV movie, Grosso commented that “The city is way better, cleaner, less crime” than when he was a cop. “Crime is down so much now that we have to go back to the 70s!” But that gave him greater freedom, too: “Just think how smart you can be writing lines when you know what’s going to happen in the next 30 years.” He continued to make occasional appearances as an actor, too. Det. Egan also liked the business, appearing in numerous TV shows and films, including several of Grosso’s. Egan died in 1995, and Salvatore Anthony “Sonny” Grosso died January 22, at 89.