Frank Lucas, the former Harlem drug kingpin who was famously portrayed by Denzel Washington in the 2007 film, American Gangster, died Thursday (May 30). He was 88.
Lucas, who was confined to a wheelchair due to a previous car accident, passed away in New Jersey while being transported to the hospital for an unknown health issue, his brother reportedly told TMZ.
Born in La Grange, N.C. in 1930, Lucas rose to prominence as a drug trafficker in the late ’60s and early ’70s. His foray into crime was apparently fueled after witnessing the Ku Klux Klan murder his 12-year-old cousin for looking at a white woman.
After a fight with a former employer, Lucas later relocated from North Carolina to Harlem at the suggestion of his mother. He started out in petty crime before moving into smuggling heroine, which he claimed made him $1 million a day at the height of his drug trafficking days. Lucas became a popular figure in Harlem, rubbing shoulders with the likes of entertainers and sports stars including James Brown, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali.
In addition to paying police $200,000 a week to look the other way as he ran his drug enterprise, Lucas used his riches to buy property all over the country. He also helped those in need, including paying off one of Louis’ tax liens after the heavyweight boxer went broke due to bad business deals.
In the mid ‘70s, Lucas was convicted of drug violations and sentenced to 70 years in prison, but he only served five years. His sentence was reduced to time served, and a lifetime of parole, after he worked as a government informant. Lucas was arrested again in 1984 for attempting to sell heroin and cocaine. He was released in 1991.