Former Baltimore gangster Nathan Barksdale, who inspired several characters on The Wire including drug kingpin Avon Barksdale, died in federal medical prison in North Carolina, The Baltimore Sun reports. He was 54.
Spokespeople for Baltimore’s Health Department, as well as an official at the medical prison in Butner, N.C. confirmed Barksdale’s death, but no cause of death was given.
The real Barksdale, who went by the nickname “Bodie” — the name of a low-level dealer in the fake Barksdale’s organization — rose to power in the Eighties, dealing heroin out of the Murphy Homes in West Baltimore. The group serviced and controlled many of the city’s high-rise public housing projects, which were later demolished (an event mimicked on the Season Three opener of The Wire).
The operation was notoriously violent, and Barksdale was reportedly shot over 20 times and had to have his right leg amputated below the knee. In 1982, he was acquitted in the killing of drug trafficker Frank Harper — also his mentor in the trade — but in 1985, Barksdale was convicted of torturing three people and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Upon his release, Barksdale joined Safe Streets, an anti-violence program, and counseled at-risk kids, but ultimately lapsed back into addiction. He was eventually caught in a DEA wiretap investigation into members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang and pleaded guilty in May 2014 to participating in a heroin conspiracy; he was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison.
Barksdale was proud of his connection to The Wire, and even released an autobiographical DVD about his life that featured an interview with Wood Harris, who played Avon on the show. However, series creator David Simon — who worked for the Baltimore Sun during Barksdale’s reign in the Eighties — noted that Avon wasn’t an exact proxy of Nathan.
“There are some anecdotal connections between his story and a multitude of characters,” he said. “We mangled street and given names throughout The Wire so that it was a general shout-out to the west-side players. But there is nothing that corresponds to a specific character.”
Melvin Williams, another former Baltimore drug kingpin also credited with inspiring Avon Barksdale, died last December. “Little Melvin” even appeared intermittently on the final three seasons of The Wire as The Deacon, a church figure who helps a former inmate, Cutty, get back on his feet after a long prison sentence.