No wonder Ridley Scott based American Gangster on the real-life heroin kingpin Frank “Superfly” Lucas of Harlem. The wild, cinematic details of his rise to the top of the 1970s drug trade are probably exaggerated. A Hollywood blockbuster seems like the perfect place to tell a story this fantastical.
Despite the fact that the 2007 film, starring Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas, is ostensibly “based on a true story,” many people in Lucas’s inner circle have claimed that the film is largely fabricated. The truth about his life and the many wrongs he has committed is difficult to piece together.
Mark Jacobson’s “The Return of Superfly,” on which the film is based, is the best-known biography of the man. Jacobson relies heavily on Frank Lucas’s first-hand account, which is full of boasts and braggadocio from a notorious “braggart, trickster, and fibber.”
Here are some of the craziest facts about Lucas’s life that the film doesn’t cover (have a few grains of salt handy).
Who Was Frank Lucas?
Frank Lucas had a difficult beginning in life. He was born on September 9, 1930, in La Grange, North Carolina. He was one of seven children and spent much of his childhood taking care of his younger siblings. Also, he suffered from the effects of Jim Crow society in the South.
According to Lucas, he was only six years old when he saw members of the Ku Klux Klan kill his 12-year-old cousin Obadiah. The Klan shot and killed Obadiah after accusing him of “reckless eyeballing” a white woman.
In 1946, after beating up his former boss at a pipe company and robbing him of $400, Lucas reportedly fled to New York. And he quickly learned that New York City was where he could make the most money.
He began by robbing dive bars at gunpoint and progressed to stealing diamonds from jewelry stores. Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, a notorious drug kingpin, took an interest in Lucas and became a kind of mentor to him.
In 2007, prosecutor Richie Roberts said to The New York Times, “Frank Lucas has probably destroyed more Black lives than the KKK could ever dream of.” (Russell Crowe played Roberts in the film).
From Street-Level Dealer To “American Gangster”
While the story of how Lucas acquired “Blue Magic” may have been a fabrication, the fact remains that it made him wealthy. He said to Jacobson, “I wanted to be rich.” I set out to achieve Donald Trump’s level of wealth, and by the grace of God, I did it. He once said he was making $1 million per day, but that turned out to be a lie, too.
Even so, he was set on flaunting his newfound wealth. So, in 1971, he wore a $100,000 chinchilla coat from head to toe to a Muhammad Ali boxing match. Unfortunately, he realized later that this was a “massive mistake.” Law enforcement noticed Lucas because of his coat, and they were taken aback to learn that he was sitting in a better section than Diana Ross and Frank Sinatra. That fight left a mark on me, Lucas said.
As a result, Lucas didn’t have much time to enjoy his success, regardless of how much money he was actually making. Partially due to Roberts’ efforts, the notoriously fur-clad criminal Frank Lucas was apprehended in 1975, a few years after he was said to have socialized with New York’s affluent and famous (and some Mafia snitching).
All of the drug lord’s money and property were seized, totaling $584,683, and he was given a 70-year prison term. According to Superfly: The True Untold Story of Frank Lucas, an American Gangster, Lucas later chafed at the low amount of cash money and claimed that the DEA had stolen from him.
All things considered, Lucas emerged from the ordeal relatively unscathed and, supposedly, more fulfilled than before. “$300,000 from Universal Pictures and another $500,000 from the studio and [Denzel] Washington to buy a house and a new car,” the New York Post reported that Lucas received.
His Foray Into The Drug Scene
Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, a drug trafficker, noticed him after he became increasingly involved in various criminal activities. He was like a father figure to Lucas, and he learned everything he knew about the drug trade from him. This was the first step of what would become a long career in the illegal drug trade.
By establishing a supply line from the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia, Lucas was able to undercut the Mafia’s monopoly on the heroin trade in Harlem. He could score massive quantities of heroin at prices lower than what the Mafia was offering.
Living Like A king Was Temporary
There was no limit to the money the drug lord could make, but his lavish lifestyle would not last.
Lucas was unable to fully appreciate his hard work’s rewards for a very long. In the early 1970s, he was seen out and about with New York’s elite and celebrity elite, but by 1975, he was behind bars. He was allegedly investigated, arrested, and prosecuted by American lawyer Riche Roberts.
Lucas’s property was frozen almost immediately. Over $584,683 in cold, hard cash was included. To 70 years in prison, Lucas was given. As time went on, he became irritated by the low amount of cash and claimed the DEA had stolen it.
When Lucas Was Released From Prison
It’s likely that Frank Lucas would have spent the rest of his life behind bars. He could have saved himself, but instead, he became a government informant. When he went into witness protection, he helped the DEA secure more than a hundred drug convictions.
After five years behind bars, he had 40 years of federal and 30 years of state sentences reduced to time served and lifetime parole.
Lucas was arrested once more in 1984, this time for attempting to trade one ounce of heroin and thirteen thousand dollars for one kilogram of cocaine. In any case, he was finally freed in 1991.
His nephew, who contacted the media to report his uncle’s passing, reported that he had passed away of natural causes. By the time Lucas passed away, he and Richie Roberts, the man who helped bust him, were pretty good friends.
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