Frank Lucas, the gangster who was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the 2007 movie “American Gangster,” has died. The drug kingpin was 88 years old. He passed away in New Jersey on May 29. At the time of his death, he was on his way to the hospital. The cause of his death has not yet been released. Here’s what you need to know about Frank Lucas:
1. He Was Born in North Carolina & Moved to NYC After a Klansman Murdered His Cousin
Lucas grew up in North Carolina. He said that he started on a life of crime after he witnessed a member of the Ku Klux Klan murder his cousin. That’s when he moved to New York City and settled in Harlem. Lucas got to know Harlem mob boss Bumpy Johnson. After Johnson died of a heart attack in 1968, Lucas took over his empire and eventually grew it into one of the biggest heroin operations in the country.
2. He Smuggled Drugs into the US from Asia, Hiding Heroin in the Coffins of Dead American Servicemen
Frank Lucas got his start selling heroin on the streets of Harlem in the 1960s. Lucas boasted that the heroin he sold was the purest on the market; he called it Blue Magic. Lucas said that the secret to making a fortune in the drug market was cutting out the middle man. He bought his heroin directly from Southeast Asia. During the 1960s and 1970s, while the Vietnam War was raging, Lucas smuggled heroin from the region and got it past authorities by hiding the drugs in the coffins of dead American service members whose bodies were being shipped home for burial.
3. He Was Sentenced to 70 Years in Prison but Served Far Less
In 1975, Lucas was brought down by the DEA and the NYPD. He was sentenced to a 70 year prison term. But Lucas agreed to provide information about other drug dealers, and his testimony resulted in dozens of other arrests. As a result, Lucas’s sentence was drastically reduced. In 1981, just six years after receiving a 70 year sentence, Lucas was released from jail.
In 1984, Lucas was sent back to jail after being busted for a new drug deal. This time, he spent seven years in prison before being released.
Lucas has said that he was ashamed of his past and that there was no excuse for his actions. During an interview about the Ridley Scott movie, American Gangster, he said that he loved the film but that he regretted the life he had led. “Don’t get it twisted, I think the film American Gangster was put together very good, but I am ashamed of my past and what I represented. What I did was wrong, straight up, and there is no excuse,” he said.
4. He was Known for His Over-the-Top Fashion Sense
Lucas and his wife were known for their lavish lifestyle, and especially for their over-the-top wardrobes. Lucas once said that his drug operation was bringing in a million dollars a day. He liked to wear a full-length chinchilla coat and a matching fur hat; you can see him in the eye-catching outfit here. Rolling Stone says that the coat cost $100,000 and that the hat set him back $25,000.
5. His Wife Said They Were Known as the ‘Black Bonnie & Clyde’ Because They ‘Always Stuck Together’
Frank Lucas married Julianna Farrait-Rodriguez. The movie “American Gangster” depicts her as a former Miss Puerto Rico, which Farrait-Rodriguez says is not the case with her. She has described herself as “shy” and says she suffers panic attacks. Farrait-Rodriguez spent 5 years in jail in the 1970s after being convicted of playing a role in her husband’s drug empire. She once said that people called her and Frank the “black Bonnie & Clyde” because, she said, they always stuck together.
Frank and Julianna divorced but remained close. In 2012, Farrait-Lucas, who was 65 at the time, was busted for trying to sell cocaine in New York. She begged the judge to let her off without prison time so that she could care for Frank. But she was handed a five year prison sentence.
Juliana helped to raise Frank’s seven children, although she said that only one of them was biologically hers.