Vercetti's father worked all his life in a printing shop, and years later Tommy still has fond childhood memories of helping his father clean the rollers. Vercetti had wanted to follow his father in the family business, but Tommy had lived a different life and instead became a criminal in the employment of the Forelli Crime Family of the Liberty City Mafia.
Vercetti was sent to prison in Liberty City in 1971 for multiple counts of homicide (which Sonny claimed totaled at eleven deaths), earning him the nickname of "The Harwood Butcher" (because Sonny Forelli called in favors and pulled strings, Tommy never received the death penalty or a life sentence in prison without parole). Tommy was released 15 years later, in 1986 and was quickly sent by mob boss Sonny Forelli to the Miami-like Vice City. There, Vercetti met up with various underworld figures and began his own vast criminal empire dealing with drugs, stolen vehicles, guns, and any other odd job (mostly illegal ones) that could provide a little extra cash.
It is eventually revealed that the incident which resulted in Vercetti's imprisonment was an ambush that was orchestrated by Sonny Forelli. Vercetti is said to have had his suspicions, but the truth is not unambiguously revealed until the final confrontation between both men. After the death of Sonny Forelli, it is unknown what happened to Vercetti. It is implied however, that he became the most powerful man in Vice City, and remains so at least all the way to the setting of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, when Ken Rosenberg attempts to call Tommy in order to ask a favor.
Tommy Vercetti, in several ways, exhibits characteristics of fictional drug lord Tony Montana from the 1983 film Scarface. This coincides with the heavy themes and appearance of the movie that has been implemented into Vice City. Among these characteristics, his exile from his old home (Liberty City), his rise to power (acquiring property in the city, and a mansion), and his short tempered behavior. Tommy was also a hired assassin (before he was jailed) and had killed his own acquaintances and friends (Lance and Sonny), as Tony Montana had.
Tommy Vercetti was voiced by Ray Liotta and motion-captured by Jonathan Sale.