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'American Gangster' Frank Lucas dead at 88

The notorious drug kingpin died Friday in New Jersey of natural causes.

Frank Lucas, the notorious Harlem drug kingpin that was the subject of the 2007 film American Gangster, has died of natural causes, according to New York Daily News.

The 88-year-old has often been credited as the originator behind the "Golden Triangle" drug operation of the early 1970s where he claimed to have used the coffins of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam to import heroin from Southeast Asia.

North Carolina-born Lucas moved to Harlem after witnessing the death of a family member by the hands of the Ku Klux Klan in 1946. Shortly after his move, Lucas became the protégé of Harlem mob boss Bumpy Johnson until his death in1968. Johnson's death pushed Lucas to take over as Harlem's drug kingpin and became the face of one of the biggest heroin empires in the United States.

"I bought Harlem, I owned Harlem, I ran Harlem," Lucas he told New York in 2000. At the peak of his success, Lucas claimed he was accumulating $1 million a day resulting in him living a lavish lifestyle. In 1971, Lucus caught the eyes of the New York Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency after wearing a $100,000 floor-length chinchilla coat and matching $25,000 hat to the Ali-Frazier boxing match.

His reign ended in 1975 when he was sentenced to 70 years in prison. However, Lucas later became a state's witness and provided evidence that resulted in several drug-related arrests. Lucas was released from prison in 1981 after his sentence was reduced to time served. He spent another three years locked up in 1984, after violating his parole when he was caught in a drug bust. Sterling Johnson, a former New York City special narcotics prosecutor, called Lucas' operation "one of the most outrageous international dope-smuggling gangs ever . . . an innovator who got his own connection outside the U.S. and then sold the stuff himself in the street."

Denzel Washington portrayed the drug lord in the quasi-fictional film that became the inspiration of JAY-Z's American Gangster album. Back in 2007, Jay told Rolling Stone, "Frank Lucas, it's something about when African-Americans reach somewhere, no matter what they're doing, if they reach somewhere that no one has ever been before, you're like 'Go! Go!"

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