I Am So Dope
The following factoids on Frank Lucas were not Hollywood grandstanding: His potent heroin string, Blue Magic, really did turn the corner of New York's 116th Street and Eigth Avenue into the Wal-Mart of dope; he did cut out the Mafia middlemen, transporting the drug himself from Southeast Asia in the coffins of dead U.S. Vietnam soldiers; his brothers and cousins - the Country Boys - were recruited from North Carolina to help run the operation; his hard hustle got him cars, planes, real estate aand stacks of cash in offshore banks; his notable competition was indeed the flamboyant Leroy "Nicky" barnes and the corrupt NYPD Special Investigation Unit hustling both sides against the middle.
And that's pretty much where the undisputed facts surrounding Lucas' fabled life end and the controversy surrounding the acclaimed Ridly Scott film American Gangster (available on DVD February 19) begins. Because of the years covered, fictionalization of certain elements has occurred, no different from any other "inspired by a true story" film. But the principals, many of whom are still alive, are throwing red flags at Hollywood's playbook.
Richie Roberts, who's played by Russell Crowe, has taken exception to the parts of the film that depict him as a philanderer in a custody dispute, particularly since he and the wife he was divorcing during the Lucas investigation never had children. ("The parts in the movie that depict Frank as a family man are ludicrous," Roberts told the New York Post. "They did it to make him look good and make me look bad.)
Mayme Johnson, who's 93 and coming out with her own book about the life of her late husband, Harlem Godfather: The Rap On My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson", has also spoken out against the movie and the 77-year-old Lucas, calling him a "sick man" and a "liar." Nicky Barnes was so incensed about his portrayal that he came out of hiding (Barnes was released into the federal witness protection program after more than two decades behind bars) to participate in the HDNET Films documentary Mr. Untouchable. Even the cops who worked alongside Roberts- former Newark narcotics detectives Ed Jones, Al Spearman and Ben Abruzzo (RZA played the part of Jones in the film) - claim that the obsessed cop takes too much credit.
And if things weren't already commplicated enough, Roberts is godfather to Lucas' 11-year-old son, Ray - both men appeared on Charlie Rose to promote the film together - and Lucas considers the man who was directly responsible for locking him up his best friend.
Not that Lucas is concerned with contradiction...or with what you think. He knows that a true-to-life American Gangster sequel will receive little fanfare since moviegoers aren't into gangsta-gone-good stories. But he pushes on, teaching the youth that the path he took more than three decades ago was far from sweet. All he hopes i that the cameras continue to run in these good times just as they did in the bad.
KING Mr. Lucas, how are you doing
FRANK LUCAS We're in a magazine, not on the radio, are we?
It's kind of funny that your first question is whether we're on the radio or in a magazine. I'm sure back in the day you went through a lot to make sure that your phone calls weren't recorded at all.
I didn't talk on the phone, I said hello to my wife and goodbye to my wife, and that was it. I didn't take pictures or do none of that.
How did you communicate? How did you live
I lived like Donald Trump.
Right, but Donald Trump doesn't have the kind of pressures that you had
Well, I didn't know about no pressures, 'cause it was 14 years before they even knew my name.
What does it feel like now that everybody knows your name?
You know what? It's something I'm really not proud of. I'm not really proud of getting 4,000 ki's. I got up to 4,500 ki's in one shipment, and that lasted me two mobnths. I was making the money, and they told me the government couldn't take it. But they lied to me. The government took every dime I had.
Do you think the movie glamorizes what you did
Did you see the movie?
I've seen it twice.
Well, you know damn well it didn't glamorize it. [Denzel] told me befor ehe even made it, "I won't glamorize you." And I said, "Mr. Washington, do what you can." And God knows he did a job. If you can find a person who'd do a better job than he did, let me know, and I'll get out the car right now, cut my interview and go see him. That's how much I think of Mr. Washington. He told me he was going to buy me a Rolls-Royce. My wife didn't want that. She got a house. You know?
What about some of the criticism you've heard? Richie Roberts and Nicky Barnes have said that they didn't like how they were portrayed in the movie
Nicky Barnes? Well, then he didn't like himself in the street, because that was the way he was. I don't know what he didn't like about it. I don't see where they put him down too much. Nicky Barnes acted a fool. I owned Harlem; I ran it; I bought it. And God knows everybody up there loved me, man. Nicky Barnes was well-known because he be riding around in his Rolls-Royce with the top back and see a junkie that owed him $10 from 10 years ago, and he'd jump out and kill the guy right there.
What about Bumpy Johnson? He was like a father to you. His wife has also spoken out against the movie.
Well, let me tell you this: I was with Bumpy Johnson 13 years, nine months and eight days; I think 45 minutes of them were with her. Bumpy didn't tell his wife nothing. Stay in the house, go shopping...she might have had a job. She's a great woman. Everybody says she lying, but I'ma tell theem not to say that, because I won't slander nobody and call them no liar. I love Mrs. Johnson, man. And even though she's like, 90-something yearso old, I hear she down in a home. If I had been out there [rather than in jail], if I had known about it, she wouldn't have been in no home, I guarantee you. Mrs. Johnson is a great lady, a true lady, and don't let nobody else tell you anything different.
And Richie Roberts - you guys are still friends?
We best friends. Let me tell you what Richie did for me. When I came out of jail, I didn't have 20 cents. I couldn't buy a pack of cigarettes and a cup of coffee. Richie took my son and sent him to an expensive, private Catholic school for more than four years. He's my son's godfather; how in the hell can I get mad at someone like that, man? If I had listened to my wife, I woulda been a billionaire by now and never would've got caught, 'cause she tried to get me to quit at my peak.
Why couldn't you quit?
You can find Frank Lucas's answer to this question and more in the Mar/Apr â€˜08 issue of KING Magazine. On newsstands now!