The Real American Gangsters

(WARNING: Some movie spoilers for American Gangster)

I recently saw the movie American Gangster, the real life story of Frank Lucas who, in the 70’s ruled streets of Harlem by supplying more heroin than any other dealer. His output was incredible, and yet his profit was even more impressive. Lucas actually went to Thailand and found a source for himself in order to buy directly from the ‘manufacturer.’ He then paid Vietnam soldiers to smuggle the drugs back to the U.S. in fallen soldiers coffins. This allowed him to pay near $4k per kilo of heroin while other dealers were paying approximately $50k – $60k.

Denzel Washington, who played the part of Lucas, reported that at one point Lucas was earning about a million dollars a day.

The film also features Leroy ‘Nicky” Barnes (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), Lucas’ rival heroine dealer. One article will call Lucas the kingpin heroin dealer of all time, while another will bestow the title on Barnes. Both made millions, both saw what they did as a business first, and both lost everything, eventually spending time in prison and being released for their cooperation in bringing other criminals and corrupt officers down.

Barnes was interviewed in the 70’s by The New York Times and dubbed ‘Mister Untouchable’ since it was believed that he was the drug kingpin and yet the police couldn’t pin it on him.

A documentary, Mr. Untouchable also came out this year tracing Nicky’s rise in crime, near super-stardom, and eventual demise. The New York Time also did a piece on Nicky and the documentary near 3 decades after first giving him the title (here).

In October Barnes and Lucas were interviewed by New York Magazine, meeting for the first time in 30 years (Lords of Dopetown). When reading through the dialouge you can hear in the old gangsters voices the nostalgic tone of ‘the good ol’ days’. They talk openly about what life was like in the real life industry depicted in the recently made film.




2 Responses to “The Real American Gangsters”

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