R.I.P. Donnie Andrews, real-life inspiration for The Wire's Omar
The Baltimore Sun is reporting the death of Larry "Donnie" Andrews, the reformed stick-up man whose real-life exploits of preying on the city's drug dealers gave birth to The Wire's Omar. Andrews reportedly died after undergoing emergency heart surgery. The Sun doesn't mention his age, but according to information provided in earlier interviews, Andrews was around 58.
Andrews first gained a reputation for terrorizing Baltimore's drug slingers as a teenager, moving on from holding up bars to robbing stash houses, and—according to this interview he gave The Independent in 2009—sticking to his own moral code of "never mess with women" or kids. After committing his one and only murder, a paid hit on a rival crew member ordered by one of West Baltimore's most powerful drug lords, Andrews was named as a suspect, though he avoided arrest due to lack of evidence. Nevertheless, he was offered a deal by homicide detective Ed Burns, who asked Andrews to wear a wire and get evidence implicating the men who'd hired him. Despite the likelihood he'd slip the charge, Andrews delivered on, as David Simon put it, "an act of conscience—and that doesn't happen a lot in police careers," forever landing on Burns' and Simon's radar as an unusual case study.
Simon later flew to a Phoenix prison to interview Andrews for the Sun, saying that Andrews soon became one of his best informants, and impressed him by "really being rigorous about making the most of his second chance." While Andrews continued his rehabilitation in jail, Simon and Burns began writing The Corner, which eventually became the successful HBO miniseries and launched their television careers. Burns introduced one of the central people in that story, struggling heroin addict Fran Boyd, to Andrews via phone, inadvertently sparking a long romantic relationship. When Andrews was finally released after serving 18 years, the two married in 2007, in front of a congregation filled with Wire actors. David Simon was best man. (Boyd's son and fellow Corner inspiration, DeAndre McCullough, died in August.)
Simon also gave Andrews his first job out of prison: a position on The Wire's writing staff, where he gave them invaluable insight into his experiences that (along with personality traits nicked from fellow Baltimore stick-up men Shorty Boyd, Ferdinand Harvin, and Anthony Hollie) formed the character of Omar. Some scenes—such as when Omar threatens to storm a stash house and the drug dealers comply by simply dropping the bag out the window—Andrews has said came directly from his life.
Like many locals, Andrews was also cast on the show. His character, also named Donnie, was an associate of Omar's confidant Butchie, and was first seen helping an imprisoned Omar tape himself up with phone books to avoid an inevitable shivving. Fittingly, Donnie was with Omar at the bitter end, [spoiler] finally dying in the fifth-season ambush that saw Omar narrowly escape out of a fifth-story window—something Andrews also said was ripped from his life. (Though he claimed he actually jumped from a sixth-story window.)
In recent years, Andrews had been working hard on his mission to move gang members away from the life, creating the non-profit Why Murder? and using his reputation and Wire-aided visibility to call for peace in his community. He died in New York, where he had been speaking at an event intended to further that cause.