Baltimore Drug Kingpin Who Inspired 'The Wire' Passed Away in Prison

By McCarton Ackerman 02/19/16

In 2014, Barksdale was sentenced to four years in federal prison for drug conspiracy and was halfway through his sentence when he died.

Baltimore Kingpin Who Inspired 'The Wire' Characters Dies in Prison
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A Baltimore drug kingpin who inspired some of The Wire’s main characters died while serving a term in federal prison in North Carolina over the weekend. Nathan Barksdale, who went by the nickname “Bodie,” died of an undisclosed illness in a medical prison, a spokesman for the Baltimore Health Department confirmed. He was 54.

In Baltimore in the ‘80s, Barksdale ran a violent heroin ring that was thought to control most of the drug traffic in various of the city’s public housing complexes, most of which have since been demolished. In 1985, he was convicted of torturing three people and served 15 years in state prison. After his release, he got involved with the health department-sponsored anti-violence program Safe Streets and said he had left his life of drugs and crime behind.

However, in 2014 he plead guilty to participating in a drug conspiracy. “I got busted,” he said at his hearing. At the sentencing, he said he had hoped to continue helping the community, but he had relapsed on heroin and became involved in the conspiracy to fund his habit. "I did some good," he said. "I'd like to think I saved some lives." He was sentenced to four years in federal prison, and was halfway through his sentence when he died.

The former kingpin is said to have been the inspiration for several key characters on HBO’s hugely popular Baltimore crime drama, The Wire, namely drugs boss Avon Barksdale and a dealer named Bodie Broadus.

Despite the shared monikers, the series’ creator David Simon said Bodie inspired various characters but none are specifically based on him. “There are some anecdotal connections between his story and a multitude of characters,” said Simon in 2014. “We mangled street and given names throughout The Wire so that it was a general shout-out to the Westside players. But there is nothing that corresponds to a specific character.”

Regardless, Barksdale relished his connection to the show, and released a DVD about his life in 2010 called The Avon Barksdale Story: Legends of the Unwired. In it, he is interviewed by actor Wood Harris, who played Avon Barksdale on the show. “In real life he was one of the most notorious gangster drug kingpins Baltimore has ever seen,” says the film’s narrator. “He was a magnet for violence.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.