Former drug kingpin Frank Lucas, whose life inspired the film American Gangster, has died at the age of 88.
The North Carolina-born criminal-turned-informant, a notorious heroin dealer in Harlem in the 1960s and 1970s, had been in declining health at the time of his death in New Jersey on Thursday.
He had been out of prison for almost 30 years, having last been behind bars for drug dealing in 1991, but it was his exploits in the decades prior to his final seven-year jail term that made him such an infamous figure.
Lucas netted millions by selling potent supplies of heroin, and he was convicted and sentenced to decades in prison after authorities seized more than $500,000 in cash from his house in Teaneck, New Jersey, in 1975.
He would later become a police informant, which helped him secure release after just five years, and his remarkable turn led to the development of the Ridley Scott-directed American Gangster.
The film, released in 2007, starred Denzel Washington as Lucas and Russell Crowe as Richard Roberts, who in real-life was a prosecutor who helped convict Lucas before becoming his lawyer and friend.
Lucas was a regular on the set, giving Washington advice on how to play him, although he later admitted that the script took some creative licence with the story of his life.
Scenes of him smuggling drugs in the caskets of US soldiers during the Vietnam War were heavily scrutinised, and a co-author of a book about Lucas, Ron Chepesiuk, said he never found any evidence or court records to substantiate the so-called “cadaver connection”.
Lucas asserted in a 2008 interview that he had transported heroin via coffins, albeit only once, but said he was not proud of some of the “terrible things” he did during his time as a criminal.
When asked at the time of the release of the film about the drug users who had died after being supplied with his heroin, he said: “I did some terrible things. I’m awfully sorry that I did them. I really am.”
Although Lucas did not return to prison after 1991, he did have one final brush with the law in 2012 when he pleaded guilty to lying to try to cash in on a $17,000 disability benefit check.
He was sentenced to five years’ probation after turning up to court in a wheelchair, with prosecutors saying they had agreed to it because of his poor health and advanced age.