- "I pay you to listen to my problems. I'm rich. I'm miserable. Half the time, my kids can't stand me. The other half, my wife is cheating on me. I kill people without remorse, Doc. Hell, I'm pretty average for this town, really"
- ―Michael talking to his therapist
- "I'm just a fat washed up jock who can't get his head around the fact his high school football career didn't play out the way that he planned. The only way I'm content and competent is with a gun in my hand or a price on my head."
- ―Michael during his therapy session.
What is known of Michael's background comes from his dialogue with other characters.
Michael was born in mid-late 1960s, possibly in the Midwest, which would explain why he spent some of his earlier criminal career in North Yankton. As a child, he didn't have the advantages his children have and grew up in a poor environment with his parents, where his father drank and hit him. During his time in high school, Michael was an all-state football quarterback.
As time moved on, Michael eventually became a criminal, with his first bank job being in the outskirts of Carcer City, in 1988, where he was able to steal $10,000. In the same year however, he had been arrested twice at the age of 20. While in prison, Michael was able to master many skills, sometimes through bizarre events, such as learning how to do tattoos by tattooing his name on his cellmate's buttocks.
As the years went on, Michael met Trevor Philips while robbing someone under a bridge and was able to induce the latter into robbery as well. Both men were hugely successful at their profession. But while the friendship between them was in fine condition, it was later strained as Michael met his future wife, Amanda, who was a stripper at the time. Michael was even able to buy Amanda some breast implants, which would help with her stripping as well as her days as a hooker. This lead to Michael creating his own prostitution racket.
While the couples love for one another grew over time, Michael and Amanda married each other while living in a trailer park in the Midwest. As time moved forward, Amanda soon gave birth to their two children, Tracey and Jimmy. Michael, who was able to see that he has a lot more to lose if he was ever killed or imprisoned, grew more cautious over time as a criminal, much to Trevor's annoyance.
At some point in 2004, Michael met FIB agent Dave Norton. Michael struck a deal with Norton to give Trevor up to the FIB and fake his death in the process, in exchange for a cut of his accumulated millions and letting Norton "kill" him in the upcoming bank heist in Ludendorff, North Yankton, making Norton's career as the agent who took down the "Most Wanted Man in America".
The robbery, however, turned out to be a disaster: after Trevor murdered a guard, he, Michael and their accomplice Brad Snider were ambushed by over a dozen police officers ready to arrest or kill them. During the getaway, their driver was killed by pursuing police; Michael took the wheel and drove the crew to the amush spot he and Norton had agreed on, where he claimed there was an escape chopper waiting. However, things yet again deviated from their plan when Brad was accidentally shot by Norton (later succumbing to his wounds) after he walked in front of Trevor. Michael took the second bullet as planned, (although the lack of blood loss implies that he was wearing a bulletproof vest), and acted as if he believed the wound fatal, imploring Trevor to leave him behind. Enraged beyond sense. Trevor proceded to massacre numerous police officers before barely escaping the ambush (to Michael's chagrin) with his life.
After the incident, Michael Townley was pronounced dead, and true to his word, Dave arranged for Michael to receive a comfortable stipend and a relocation to a large to Los Santos mansion, where he and his family lived under the surname "De Santa" (a longtime alias of Michael's); thus, Michael recieved an off-the-books way to safely retire from his former criminal life and spend time with his wife and kids in exchange for a monthly five-figure "hush money" payment to Norton in exchange for his silence.
Events of GTA V
Nine years later after the events of his false death, Michael's domestic life is spiraling out of his control. Amanda rarely shows love towards him because of his rude behavior and his children have little respect for him. With all of this, Michael goes through a midlife crisis and goes to therapy often. After one therapy session, Michael has a chance encounter with a Los Santos youth named Franklin Clinton, who he unknowingly directs to Franklin's repossession assignment along with his friend Lamar Davis.
A short time later his son Jimmy buys an SUV from Simeon Yetarian, an Armenian car salesman who sells the car to him at an unaffordable price. This led to Yetarian's repo man, Franklin Clinton, to "repossess" the SUV from the De Santa household. However, Michael spotted Franklin sneaking in and hid in the backseat of the car as Franklin steals it. Michael reveals himself and holds Franklin at gunpoint, ordering him to go to Yetarian's shop and drive the SUV through the store's window. Afterwards, Michael pays Franklin to leave and beats Yetarian into submission, threatening more violence if he pulls another of his sale tactics on him or his family again.
At home, Michael attempts to relax by his pool, only to be interrupted by Franklin, who takes up his offering of a drink earlier. Surprised that Franklin actually took it to heart, Michael decides to take him out drinking. Unfortunately, Jimmy calls that instant and reveals he has tried to sell Michael's boat, ending with the "buyers" hijacking the yacht themselves. Enraged, Michael along with Franklin drives after the boat, saving Jimmy but was unable to rescue it. Michael becomes angry at Jimmy but becomes fond of Franklin, who he tells to visit him any time and maybe be friends with Jimmy.
After the fiasco with the boat, Michael discovers Amanda sleeping with her tennis coach, leading him and a recently arrived Franklin to give chase. Furious, Michael chases the coach to an exotic house on the side of the Vinewood Hills. Michael then orders Franklin to hook their truck's winch onto the supports of the house and pulls them loose, causing the house to collapse, much to Franklin's shock and Michael's joy. However, it turns out that the house did not belong to the coach, but the girlfriend of a powerful Mexican gangster named Martin Madrazo, who sends men after Michael and Franklin. The two manages to fend them off, but Madrazo arrives at the De Santa residence and demands that Michael pays for the damages by paying him about two million dollars, money that Michael does not have.
With no other choice, Michael decides to return to bank robbing and contacts his old partner Lester Crest. Crest agrees to help Michael get the money if the latter agrees to sabotage founder of Lifeinvader, Jay Norris' phone. Michael does so and causes Norris' death when he calls the entrepreneur's sabotaged phone, which exploded next to his head, much to Michael's shock and Lester's excitement.
After collecting information about a jewelry store and its gems, Michael and Lester set up a heist, with Michael insisting that Franklin be apart.
- "You forget a thousand things every day, pal. Make sure this is one of ‘em."
- ―Michael to the security guard during the heist.
The heist goes smoothly and Madrazo is paid. Unfortunately for Michael, the job is reported on the news, which Trevor sees on his TV. Trevor recognizes Michael's modus operandi from the report and goes partially berserk, making his way to Los Santos to confront the "ghost" of his former partner and friend.
Back home, Michael finds marijuana in the fridge, and correctly assumes it is Jimmy's. This creates an angry argument among the family until Trevor arrives, much to everyone's shock and horror. Thankfully, the tension is broken by Jimmy revealing that Tracey has gone to audition for Fame or Shame. Realizing that Tracey will embarrass herself in front of the nation due to her horrible dancing, Michael and Trevor rush to the Maze Bank Arena.
The two find Tracey doing a stripper-like dance and the show's host Lazlow Jones beginning to do a sexual pose behind her, enraging both Michael and Trevor. The two give chase to a fleeing Lazlow to the Los Santos river. Trevor forces Lazlow to take off his pants and dance for them as he records on his phone. In the aftermath, Tracey angrily blames her father for ruining her life, which doesn't seem to bother him.
Soon after, Michael is assigned by Dave Norton to do a favor for him. When they get to the meeting point, Dave requests him to confirm the death of a suspect in a morgue. To do this, Norton knocks Michael out and delivers him as a corpse to the morgue. Michael wakes in the middle of the autopsy and then finds out that the suspect isn't dead by finding his name tag on a woman's corpse. Michael escapes the morgue by killing the guards. In a panic, Michael calls Franklin and accidentally reveals he is affiliated with the FIB, though Franklin continues to trust Michael due to the better pay from jobs with him.
Michael continues to work for Norton. Steve Haines, a corrupt FIB agent working with Norton, contacts him and makes him team up with Franklin and Trevor to extract a prisoner of the IAA, dubbed Mr. K, out of the IAA building and into the hands of the FIB. Later, Michael and Trevor are summoned to a remote warehouse where Michael is briefed that he will accompany Norton to assassinate an Azebaijani suspect whilst Trevor and Haines torture Mr. K. The mission is successful and Michael refuses to know any more details of the mission.
When Michael returns home, he finds his wife with her yoga instructor Fabien, who asks Michael to join them. After a few poses, Fabien begins doing a sexual pose on Amanda, causing Michael to get angry and attack Fabien, who dodges him and makes him fall into the pool. Angered by her husband's attitude, Amanda leaves with Fabien.
Michael goes upstairs and tries to do something with Jimmy, who asks him to go with him to get a package from a friend. They meet the friend at Burger Shot and he gives Jimmy some pot and a drink. On the way home, Michael drinks from Jimmy's drink and begins to feel strange. Jimmy reveals that he drugged the drink and then pushes Michael out of the car and reveals he is moving out and he is going to keep the car. Michael begins having strange dreams and wakes up in his underwear a few blocks away from his home. When he gets to the house, he finds a note from Amanda saying that his family has left due to Michael's behavior.
Later, Trevor contacts Michael and Franklin to partake in his own heist; of security force Merryweather's cargo at the docks. The heist goes as planned and Trevor finds a superweapon that Lester reveals is highly dangerous, especially in the hands of someone like Trevor and tells him that he must return it. Michael and Franklin agree, and Trevor is furious that he cannot keep the loot.
After the Merryweather heist, Michael is called upon by millionaire Devin Weston, who offers him partnership with movie producer Solomon Richards if he steals several rare cars for him with Trevor and Franklin. Offered his dream job, Michael eagerly agrees and delivers the cars to Weston.
Michael is thrilled to finally meet his idol Solomon Richards, who hires him as an assistant. His first job is to convince Rocco Pelosi to obey Solomon's wishes for how the actors should behave during the production of the digital movie Meltdown. This gets Michael on Richard's good side and is promised the role of producer for the upcoming film if Michael continues his good work.
Martin Madrazo later summons Michael and Trevor to his home, and offers them pay if they bring down his cousin's airliner, which is carrying a package Madrazo wants. Michael does his part by bringing it down with a weapon inside a van. After destroying the van, Michael finds out to his horror that Trevor has kidnapped Madrazo's wife Patricia. Knowing full well what Madrazo might do to them if he catches them, Michael agrees to hide out on Sandy Shores with Trevor.
Characters Murdered by Michael De Santa
- Jay Norris - Murdered for Lester Crest, so that he would re-join Michael for robberies.
- Tahir Javan - Murdered on orders from Steve Haines for alleged ties to Terrorist groups.
- Walton O'Neil - Murdered for seeking retribution against Trevor Philips
- Wynn O'Neil - Murdered for seeking retribution against Trevor Philips.
- Rocco Pelosi - Murdered for harassing Solomon Richards.
- Gianni - Murdered for harassing Solomon Richards.
- Trevor Philips - Murdered if Franklin follows orders from Steve Haines to kill him but doesn't shoot Trevor at the end then Michael will instead. (Kill Trevor Ending)
- Harold "Stretch" Joseph - Murdered for trying to have Franklin Clinton and Lamar Davis killed. (Deathwish Ending)
- Devin Weston - Murdered for trying to have Michael killed. (Deathwish Ending)
- United Liberty Paper contact - Can be killed during the mission The Wrap Up.
- Isiah Friedlander - Can be killed during Michael's final visit to him.
- Abigail Mathers - Can be killed after the Strangers and Freaks mission Death at Sea.
Physical Appearance and Animation
Michael is a Caucasian male, with grayish black hair and green eyes. His default appearance is a cleft chin with a lexington hairstyle and a short stubble around his face. Michael's physique is thicker than the likes of Trevor and Franklin and although he isn't obese or out of shape, many people around him will occasionally make fun of his size, such as Jimmy and Trevor. Michael's movement is also much more slower than Franklin and Trevor's, as he is much older and not as physically active as the other two.
Michael's initial wardrobe sets him as a person who enjoys two-piece suits without tie and casual attires like beach shorts with sandals or polo shirts. He shows approval as he's trying out outfits at Ponsonby's, opposite to the clear disdain of buying items from Suburban or Binco. Sometimes, after a random character switch, he can be seen wearing his tennis outfit after having lunch with his wife Amanda (an outfit you can't select from the house's wardrobe).
Grand Theft Auto series
Michael has a very complex personality.
He has a darker and violent side to him. He has an exceptionally short temper, which fills him with rage and causes him to not think at times. One example would be where he caught Amanda having an affair with her tennis coach. He chases the coach to a mansion and pulls it off a hillside thinking it was the coaches', (however, everyone around Michael, including the tennis coach himself, knew that the mansion was too expensive for him to afford on his salary). Another example would be Michael smashing Jimmy's flat screen television after the latter rudely told him to leave his room.
Michael is highly egotistical; he'll often complain about his own well being and safety, rather than his team mates, before doing a dangerous and life threatening mission as well as doing the same when someone doesn't support him, his decisions and/or criticizes him. One example would be the arguments that he has with Amanda, as she'll often criticize him for his rude and conceited behavior, to which Michael will arrogantly bring up the fact that he was the one who made their lives a lot more wealthy with the decisions he made. Another example would be how he criticizes Trevor for calling Franklin to help him out with a situation, Trevor himself stated that Michael only thought about himself instead of the trouble.
He is also very sarcastic, as he made fun of Trevor's meth lab. After the two men argue about it, Michael angrily claims that sarcasm is the one thing he can use, as he doesn't have many things left in this world. Furthermore, Michael makes bad judgement calls and and has a large willingness to make large moral compromises, one example for each of the two being his deal with the FIB. The latter demonstrates much hypocrisy, as he'll often criticize Trevor for his ability to kill people without remorse, even though he does the exact same thing. If one were to even choose the Deathwish Ending, Michael would reveal that he hates himself, but he now "knows the words for it".
Michael admits to his therapist that he kills without remorse (and that he possibly killed someone on his way to the therapist) but says that he is neither a psychopath or a sociopath, this causes Michael confusion as he doesn't know where he fits in as while he does try to be a good person, even if it is sometimes half-hearted, he enjoys the thrill and rewards of his old life. The therapist himself says that Michael is "addicted to chaos" despite some of latter's complaints about almost getting killed and risking his life numerous times.
The second time Michael visits his therapist, he can be told that he is a combination of a psychopath and a deluded sociopath, though clearly Michael has emotions that make him unlikely to be a true sociopath even if he is capable of remorselessly killing.
Despite all of the negatives, Michael does possess a good side to his personality. Such as him being a very considerate individual, as he paid Franklin for doing what he was forced to do and drive through the front of his boss' business, even though the latter broke into Michael's mansion. Despite all the problems he has in his family, he dearly loves them but is frequently angered with Tracey's social life, Jimmy being jobless, lazy and a video game addict and Amanda spending most of his money and cheating on him. However, after reuniting with his family, Michael's family issues slowly started to end.
Relationships With Other Characters
- Amanda De Santa - Amanda's relationship with Michael also started in an unknown time where she was a stripper and a hooker, Michael who at the time was running his own prostitution racket, paid for Amanda's breast implants so that she could earn more money. The two eventually fell in love with one another, got married and had two children while living in the Midwest. Michael convinced Amanda to moved to Los Santos, along with their children, while in the witness protection program. During the events of the game, Amanda can barely tolerate him any more due to his arrogant personality and verbally abusive behavior towards her. Amanda begins to have an affair with her Tennis coach which further strains their marriage. Amanda finally hits the breaking point when Fabien LaRouche, her yoga instructor, does a sexual pose which angers Michael and attempts to punch him, ending with Fabien sidestepping and makes Michael land in the swimming pool. Amanda then berates Michael for his attempted action, calling him "a pathetic psychopath" and leaves him with Tracey while Jimmy moves out on his own (according to him). Michael later suffers from depression after his wife and kids leave him. However, Jimmy soon comes back and attempts to bring back his dysfunctional family together. Amanda was then seen hanging out with Fabien at a local Bean Machine coffee shop and she becomes annoyed with his impolite behavior and allows Michael to smack him in the face with a laptop. Amanda and the kids move back in with Michael as the two love birds experiences during the game brought them closer together and they appear to be more prepared to deal with their personal problems instead of arguing with each other. After a few in game days or so have past, the couple's love for each other begins to grow back to it's original form, with one example being if one were to switch to Michael, they can see the latter happily get out of bed after a sexual night with Amanda, to which she'll even smack him on his buttocks as he leaves the room.
- Jimmy De Santa - Jimmy's relationship with his father is rocky as well and even though Michael is far from perfect, he loves his son but does not know how to display it. His son is not very moral either as he often takes drugs and attempted to sell his father's boat without him knowing, ending with the boat being stolen. They've both have a confused and strained relationship with each other. Michael does try to improve their relationship by spending time with his son, but to no avail as his son lacks any form of respect for his father and even at one point drugs him, takes money from his bank account, and steals his car. However, Jimmy soon regrets his actions and visits his father, saying he does love him and promises to get a job and not be a lazy, pot-smoking, video game addict, which can be seen in-game.
- Tracey De Santa - Michael's relationship with his daughter is also said to be weak, as in the second trailer, her first appearance, didn't show any dialogue with Michael. Despite their weak relationship, Michael does love his daughter but is often angry at Tracey's loose behavior and social life such as her hanging out with drug dealers and porn stars, and embarrasses her by interrupting her audition for " Fame or Shame " by chasing Lazlow out of the building. Later in the game, Tracey seems to develop a better relationship with her father, which started improving after Michael humiliates Lazlow in the tattoo parlor and demands that Lazlow puts Tracey on "Fame or Shame" by doing whatever she wants in the show.
- Trevor Philips - Trevor's relationship with Michael started at an unknown time period, but the two met when Trevor spotted Michael robbing people by a bridge. Michael convinced Trevor to join him to commit further robberies and thus started a long partnership. Michael and Trevor's friendship with one another was fine until Michael met his future wife Amanda, causing their friendship to strain since Trevor and Amanda didn't get along as much. After a heist goes wrong, Michael and Trevor both assumed that one another was dead. It was shown that Michael deeply cared for Trevor yet only wanted him dead because he thought that the latter would end up killing him or his family. After Michael's relapse into crime, Trevor discovers he is alive and comes to the conclusion that he faked his death. Trevor and Michael's friendship becomes strained as Trevor feels betrayed by Michael but both still get on well enough. Their friendship is even further strained when Trevor finds the truth about Michael's survival and Brad's death, leading to a standoff between the two. From this point on, Trevor vowed to kill Michael, but still needed the man alive so they could team up again to pull off one big job. In the Deathwish ending, Michael and Trevor have one last standoff before Franklin explains that both men have two options: kill each other right now, or work together to kill their enemies. Trevor ends up picking the latter, and it ends up being successful. After the incident, it seems that Michael and Trevor have finally managed to rekindle their friendship, with Trevor considering Michael as a friend, albeit a friend that he hates, which Michael manages to accept. After this, while hanging out with each other, Michael will offer Trevor a part of his share from the big score (which Trevor rejects), and apologizes once again, this time Trevor accepting the apology.
- Franklin Clinton - Franklin meets Michael after the stealing a car from the latter's house, Michael then has Franklin take him to whomever tasked Franklin to steal his son's car. Right from the start, Franklin was impressed with Michael's professional criminality and after his firing from Premium Deluxe Motorsport, he sought out Michael for possible work. After Franklin manages to save Michael's son, he sees much potential in the young man. After Franklin's help with the jewelry store heist, Michael refers to Franklin as the "son I always wanted". Franklin in turn seems to have respect for Michael and is grateful for improving his life and is loyal to him for it. He even helps Michael out with his government issue. After meeting Trevor, Franklin starts to see many arguments between the both. But rather than siding with one of them, Franklin tries to calm the both of them down in hopes that it won't escalate into something more violent and unnecessary.
For the list of Michael De Santa's mission appearances, see Michael De Santa/Appearances.
Dan Houser's Description of Michael
"Michael, to me, is... Who is he? I know who he is, I'm just trying to... He's the person who is trying to ignore some rather large mistakes that they have made. The person who's trying to forget about certain practical but still selfish decisions that they took. He's a man, also, obsessed by images and by appearances and who, when the world doesn't live up to those images and appearances, doesn't know what to do. He just retreats into his head. What he also is, when we started out... What he kind of evolved into as we began thinking about him and developing him... He was the first character we came up with. He began as the idea of, what happens to a regular GTA protagonist after they retire? Then you think, what would make him retire? He's a man with a big ego and plenty of good values and plenty of bad values."
"A guy who's in his mid-40s and on the cusp of middle age who doesn't know what to do, but made a bunch of money and does not know what to do with it. He's theoretically won, but the spoils of victory aren't necessarily what he imagined. For us that's a very interesting character, unlike what we've done in the past or what we've seen in much entertainment in general, let alone any video games. That was interesting."
- Michael is the initial playable character in GTA V, the second being Trevor and the third being Franklin.
- Michael was the first protagonist that came to Rockstar's mind when they began the development of Grand Theft Auto V.
- Michael is the only protagonist in the entire Grand Theft Auto series to have a wife and children.
- As seen in Trailer one and two, Michael is seen with green eyes and an older look. In the Michael and Gameplay trailer, Michael has brown eyes and a younger look. This includes a Beta version of this protagonist.
- Being in his mid-late 40s, he is the oldest protagonist in the GTA series.
- The song that plays in the Michael trailer is "Radio Ga Ga" by Queen.
- Michael's special ability might be a reference to Max Payne, another Rockstar-owned franchise, where the title character possess an ability called "Bullet-time", that allow him to slow down time. Both at some point in their lives arrived at their houses only to find out it was under siege by a group of mercenaries while their families hid in horror. Michael even has the same gray suit that Max wears in Max Payne 3. Elements for Michael's ability might also be taken from Rockstar's Red Dead games, which feature a similar ability called "Dead-eye".
- The quote that Michael uses in Prologue and The Jewel Store Job, "You forget a thousand things everyday, make sure this is one of them.", is from the Solomon Richards movie Author's Penny Sanatorium, although slightly modified. The original line is "We forget a thousand things everyday, can't we just make this one of them?"
- Michael Townley is a real person under federal witness protection.
- In a cutscene, Michael revealed that he was a football star in high school. He then claims that his high school football career "didn't work out like the way he planned", possibly pushing him towards a life of crime.
- If you shoot or fire rockets at Michael's house as Trevor Phillips or Franklin Clinton, he will text you saying 'stop shooting at my house' or, 'stop firing rockets at my house' If you shoot his house after he texts you, he will call you saying stop shooting up my house!.
- Michael along with Trevor are currently the first protagonists in the GTA series who can become a final boss and must be killed in the finale. However this is if Franklin chooses to kill either of them instead of the "Death Wish" choice.
- Michael seems to love watching movies, specifically "classic Vinewood", as he is seen watching one in his house during several cutscenes. In a phone call with Lester during the mission "Friend Request", he seems to pride himself as being a "movie guy", according to the comments he makes about his opinion on films. He also can identify the film quotes spoken by Solomon Richards during his missions and phone calls.
- Michael shares his new last name with Vincente de Santa, one of the antagonists of Red Dead Redemption.
- Upon returning to his house, one possible line of dialogue for Michael to shout is "Daddy's back, bitches!", the first line of dialogue in Grand Theft Auto IV.
- On Michael's tombstone in North Yankton it states that he was born in 1965 (making him 48 in 2013) however Trevor and his son Jimmy both state that he is 45 years old (meaning he was born in 1968) therefore his exact age is unclear.