Frank Lucas, Drug Kingpin Portrayed in ‘American Gangster,’ Dies at 88

Frank Lucas (Credit: YouTube)

Frank Lucas, the former Harlem drug lord portrayed by Denzel Washington in American Gangster, has died. He was 88.

Lucas passed away Thursday in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, his nephew Aldwan Lassiter told The New York Times.

Born in La Grange, N.C. in 1930, Lucas moved to New York as a teen and began a life of crime, starting with gambling and smalltime drug dealing.

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American Gangster (Credit: Universal Pictures)
American Gangster (Credit: Universal Pictures)

Lucas would later change the drug trade by finding new ways to import heroin into the U.S. He removed mafia middlemen and bought drugs directly from suppliers in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle during the Vietnam War.

The kingpin famously claimed he smuggled drugs into the New York area by using the returning coffins of fallen American soldiers killed in action.

At the height of his operation, Lucas said he was taking in $1 million a day. But his world came crashing down when he was arrested in 1975 and convicted.

An account of his life was told in Ridley Scott’s 2007 film American Gangster. Washington played Lucas and Russell Crowe portrayed the prosecutor who brought him down.

The drama was nominated for Academy Awards for art direction and best supporting actress for Ruby Dee. The film was a global hit and made $266 million worldwide.