George Jung, the cocaine smuggler whose exploits served as the inspiration for the movie Blow, has reportedly died. He was 78.
The news was first reported Wednesday by TMZ, which cited sources close to the situation in saying that Jung passed Wednesday morning at his home in the Boston area, adding that the “cause of death is currently not known, though he had recently been experiencing liver and kidney failure.”
TMZ reported that Jung had been in “home hospice care since this past weekend and died with his girlfriend, Ronda, and friend, Roger, by his side.”
A post on Jung’s Instagram account provided further confirmation, saying that he died Wednesday morning at his home in Weymouth, Massachusetts.
George Jung: A Wild Life
One of the best known drug smugglers, George Jung was born on August 6, 1942 in the Boston area. His stomping ground would ultimately form the basis for his famed moniker: “Boston George.”
His entry into the drug trade began in the 1960s, when Jung started transporting marijuana across the Mexico border into the United States.
In a 2007 interview with PBS’s “Frontline,” Jung recalled his origins as a smuggler:
“Well, smoking marijuana—or most everybody who smokes marijuana deals it in small amounts to their friends, innocently enough. I think it’s innocently enough,” Jung said in the interview.
“Then I begin to see the money aspect of it. That was the driving force. I suddenly began to realize that to become an entrepreneur in the marijuana business would make me fairly well off. And I also liked the lifestyle, my own working hours. Basically, the whole conception of this came about when a friend of mine came out to Manhattan Beach for the summer in California. He was attending U-Mass at Amherst and I had a large punch bowl of pot sitting on the table, for anybody to use at their leisure.”
“He asked me how much it was worth and I told him something like $60.00 per kilo. He told me that it sold for $300.00 back East in Amherst. The wheels began to turn and the next thing I knew we were purchasing the $60.00 kilos and transporting pot back to Amherst making a profit of approximately $200.00 on each one less the airline fare, what have you. At that time that was a lot of money.”
George Jung was busted in 1974 and was sentenced to four years in the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Connecticut, where he met a cartel associate from Medellin named Carlos Lehder. Jung and Lehder “conspired to rain a white-powder blizzard down upon America that would inhibit the serotonin reuptake of millions of party people at the end of the ’70s, making them both incredibly rich men,” as High Times put it in 2015.
It was Lehder who would eventually introduce Jung to Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug kingpin.
Jung ultimately found out that Lehder was selling out the cartel, prompting Jung to testify against Lehder.
In a 2015 interview with High Times, Jung detailed how he sought permission from Escobar before testifying:
“I mean, that was a dirty word to me. And, actually, it was still under the one-third-parole situation—I was going to do no more than five years. I wasn’t afraid of the time in prison; five years was not much,” Jung said at the time.
“I was approached to testify, and I told them no way, I would never do that. Then, several weeks later, it was in the Miami Herald that Carlos had written a letter to George Bush saying that he was going to give up all the information that he could about the cartel for his freedom. I was being held at the North Dade Correctional Center, and they showed me the paper, and then the top of my head blew off. That’s when I agreed to do that—but I asked permission and was told to go ahead.”
In 2001, Jung’s extraordinary life was immortalized on the silver screen, when he was portrayed by Johnny Depp in the biopic Blow.
Jung told High Times that Denis Leary, who was a producer on the film, told him that the movie would star Depp. The problem: Jung didn’t know who that was.
“The producer, Denis Leary, called and he said, ‘I found the right person—Johnny Depp,’” Jung recalled. “And I said, ‘Who the hell is that?’ And he said, ‘Edward Scissorhands.’ And I said, ‘What the hell is that?’ And he said, ‘Meet him.’”
“And Johnny got the special visit, and he came in and he looked like he had slept in a dumpster—skinny, his hair hanging down and greasy, ripped leather jacket, holes in the sleeves, Vietnam army boots—and I said, ‘Jesus Christ, what happened to you?’ He said, ‘I was up all night thinking of what to bring you. It drove me crazy.’”
“And he handed me On the Road, by Kerouac. He said, ‘This is my Bible. I carry it with me everywhere I go. I want you to have it.’ I had read it when I was in high school, and that Kerouac pumped me up to be crazier than I was going to be, all right? And that’s when we bonded.”
Jung continued: “He would come on visiting days, and I would just walk around in circles and keep talking and he would watch me, and one day I told him, ‘I’m not walking any more circles—it’s over.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry, I got it.’ And the parts that I did see of Blow, he got it. He became me.”
George Jung lived a full and interesting life, and his story and legacy has been immortalized in print and on screen. Our deepest sympathies to his friends and family. Rest in peace, George.