Part of the Medellin drug cartel, he was imprisoned multiple times and was later played by Johnny Depp in the 2001 movie “Blow.”,
George Jung, Who Made Millions Smuggling Cocaine, Dies at 78
Part of the Medellin drug cartel, he was imprisoned multiple times and was later played by Johnny Depp in the 2001 movie “Blow.”
The cocaine smuggler George Jung at a screening of “Blow,” a movie about his life, in 2018. “I don’t call myself a gangster,” he once said. “I’m an outlaw.” Credit…Greg Doherty/Getty Images
George Jung, a cocaine smuggler who, at the height of his criminal career in the 1970s and ’80s, reaped millions of dollars a day from running drugs through the notorious Medellin cartel, died on Wednesday in hospice care in his hometown, Weymouth, Mass. He was 78.
The death was confirmed on social media by people close to him, including a post shared on his Instagram page. No cause was given, but the celebrity news site TMZ reported that he had recently been experiencing liver and kidney failure.
Mr. Jung made his fortune as part of the Medellin cartel. He joined the cartel’s mastermind, Pablo Escobar, one of the world’s most murderous and successful cocaine traffickers, in smuggling planeloads of the drug into the United States.
At its peak in the mid-1980s, the cartel was the largest drug-smuggling ring in the Western Hemisphere, vacuuming up an estimated $420 million a week, or $22 billion a year.
Mr. Jung, who went by the nicknames Boston George and El Americano, gained some notoriety after Hollywood produced a version of his life story in the 2001 movie “Blow,” in which he was portrayed by Johnny Depp. The movie, directed by Ted Demme, was adapted from Bruce Porter’s 1993 book, “Blow: How a Small-Town Boy Made $100 Million With the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All.”
Johnny Depp as Mr. Jung in “Blow.” Mr. Jung was a fan and promoter of the film.Credit…Lorey Sebastian/New Line Cinema
The movie was a disappointment at the box office and received so-so reviews. Writing in The Observer, the critic Andrew Sarris said there was no “arc” to Mr. Jung’s criminal destiny and that “he just steadily fades into middle-aged prison pallor.”
Mr. Jung had a more glorified view of himself. “I don’t call myself a gangster,” he told The Boston Globe in 1993. “I’m an outlaw. Bob Dylan said when you live outside the law, you must be honest. A gangster is a person who steals and cheats and takes. I never took. I just gave.”
That’s not the way others saw it. The Globe summarized his career this way: “Jung powdered the noses of the Hollywood rich and famous, burned through several fortunes and helped run the cartel, a brutal organization fueled with blood and money.”
His high-flying act was punctuated by multiple arrests for large quantities of either marijuana or cocaine. His last major arrest was in the mid-1990s; he served almost 20 years before being released in 2014. He was back inside two years later for a parole violation, then released from a halfway house in 2017. He had not been in prison since.
Deadline reported in November that he remained on probation “and continues to grapple with his demons.” Although he came to see cocaine as “evil,” he never publicly expressed regret for his role in fueling the nationwide coke epidemic of the 1980s, saying only that he was giving people what they wanted.
George Jacob Jung was born on Aug. 6, 1942, in Weymouth, Mass., south of Boston. His father, Frederick, ran a small business. His mother, Ermine (O’Neill) Jung, was a homemaker. George was a star football player in high school but was charged with soliciting a prostitute who turned out to be an undercover police officer.
After graduating from high school in 1961, he briefly attended the University of Southern Mississippi, where he considered studying advertising, but he soon dropped out.
He learned early how easily he could make money dealing drugs, starting on a small scale by selling a portion of every stash of weed that he had bought for his own use.
By 1967 he was smuggling cannabis he bought in California back to New England, where it fetched a higher price. Most of it was transported by a girlfriend who was a flight attendant and who packed it in suitcases.
He expanded his smuggling operation further by flying in drugs from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, often using airplanes he stole from private airports on Cape Cod, according to The Globe.
This spree came to an end in 1974 with his first drug arrest, on charges of having a trunk full of marijuana in Chicago. That landed him in federal prison in Danbury, Conn., which he called “crime school” for all of the tricks of the trade he picked up there.
His cellmate was Carlos Lehder, who already had extensive experience with cocaine, and they struck up a quick friendship.
“He was looking for a way to transport cocaine out of Colombia and people to sell it in the United States, and there I was,” Mr. Jung told PBS in 2000. “It was like a marriage made in heaven, or hell in the end.” (Mr. Jung would eventually betray Mr. Lehder by testifying against him to get a reduced sentence.)
After their release in 1976, Mr. Jung and Mr. Lehder helped alter the American drug scene by introducing large quantities of cocaine, which until then had been little used. They joined forces with Mr. Escobar, their trade grew exponentially, and the money rolled in.
With the higher stakes came a heightened sense of danger and excitement.
Even though he “looked like Bela Lugosi,” Mr. Jung told PBS, he still attracted beautiful women.
“Everybody at that time, especially women, were in love with cocaine and of course in love with the money — the access to the automobiles, the clothes, the dinners, the lifestyle,” he said. “Basically I was no different than a rock star or a movie star. I was a coke star.”
To his family, he was an embarrassment, especially because federal agents were constantly surveilling his parents’ house looking for him. Before his father died in 1988, his mother would not allow George to visit. The only way for him to communicate with his father, he decided, was to make him an audio tape. On the tape, George sought to make amends but never quite apologized.
“They said he used to go out and play it in his car every day,” Mr. Jung told The Globe. “I broke his heart.”
Mr. Jung’s survivors include a daughter, Kristina Sunshine Jung, who was raised by her mother, Mirtha (Calderon) Jung, Mr. Jung’s former wife. Kristina’s daughter, Athena Karan, died in a car accident in January. She was 19.
After he was released from a halfway house in 2017, Mr. Jung returned to his childhood home in Weymouth to film a five-part documentary series called “Boston George: Famous Without the Fortune.” TMZ said that the rights to the completed documentary have been purchased by 123 Go Films, which is shopping it to networks and streaming services.
When Mr. Jung visited his old neighborhood, The Patriot Ledger of nearby Quincy, Mass., reported, he received a warm welcome.
The newspaper also said that the unrepentant Mr. Jung was still living off the proceeds of the “Blow” film, of which he remained a big fan and promoter.
“There’s something for everybody in it,” Mr. Jung said of the movie. “Advice, betrayal, love of a parent, loss of a parent, broken dreams. It’s a lesson plan for life.”