The Real-Life Inspiration For The Wire's Avon Barksdale - SlashFilm (2024)

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The Real-Life Inspiration For The Wire's Avon Barksdale - SlashFilm (1)

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The first three seasons of "The Wire" centered around Avon Barksdale, a powerful drug dealer in West Baltimore who serves as the police characters' primary antagonist in season 1. He's arrested at the end of the season and sentenced to prison, but he remains unperturbed, repeating the motto multiple times that there are only really two days you spend in prison: "the day you get in, and the day you get out."

Avon is released far earlier than the police expected at the beginning of season 3 and resumes his partnership with the ambitious and cold-hearted Stringer Bell (Idris Elba). Their relationship gradually devolves over the next few episodes and Avon is arrested again, this time for good, but not before cementing himself as one of the most compelling and memorable TV criminals of all time.

Like several other characters on "The Wire," the inspiration for Avon drew from a real person from Baltimore. According to the Baltimore Sun, the real Avon was named Nathan Barksdale, an infamous head of a violent heroin operation in Baltimore's Murphy Homes public housing complex in the 1980s. His nickname was "Bodie," which was given to one of Avon's crew members in the show. Also like Avon, Nathan was arrested and sentenced to prison (15 years in his case), released and then arrested again for drug-related crimes in 2014.

In 2010, Barksdale was interviewed by Wood Harris, the actor who played him in "The Wire," in the unreleased docudrama "The Avon Barksdale Story: Legends of the Unwired." In 2016, he died in a federal medical prison at 54 years old.

Shoutouts to Westside players

The Real-Life Inspiration For The Wire's Avon Barksdale - SlashFilm (2)

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Despite the connections, the characterization of Avon Barksdale through the first three seasons of "The Wire" was not based directly on Nathan Barksdale."There are some anecdotal connections between his story and a multitude of characters," showrunner David Simon told the Baltimore Sun. "We mangled street and given names throughout 'The Wire' so that it was a general shoutout to the Westside players. But there is nothing that corresponds to a specific character."

This is part of what makes the show feel so real, and also what occasionally put the show under mild criticism. One such incident was in season 5, where fan-favorite character Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) survived a desperate jump from the balcony on a building's fourth floor. He was severely injured, but the fact that he was able to survive and walk away at all struck a lot of fans as unrealistic. For another show it wouldn't be a huge deal, but for a show that prided itself on its unflinching realism, it was a legitimate problem.

How did the show mess up like this? Well, turns out it didn't: Donnie Andrews, the real-life inspiration for Omar, survived a similar jump in a similar situation. Not only that, but Andrews claims he jumped from the sixth floorof the building, not the fourth. The show made Omar's jump lower than the real-life story to make it feel more believable. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and that's certainly true here. As much as "The Wire" was almost entirely fictional, it was one of the events taken directly from real life that ended up stretching viewers' suspension of disbelief the most.

Letting Westside players on the show

The Real-Life Inspiration For The Wire's Avon Barksdale - SlashFilm (3)

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Although Nathan Barksdale never got to star in the show, plenty of the police officers and drug dealers that served as inspiration for many characters of "TheWire" got the chance to play a minor role. Donnie Andrews got a part as Omar's associate in seasons 4 and 5, and his character was present in the scene where Omar jumps off the balcony. (Unfortunately, Andrews' character does not survive the scene, having been shot in the head.)One of the other inspirations for Avon Barksdale, former drug trafficker Melvin Williams, got a minor recurring role asthe Deacon in seasons 3 through 5.

There's alsoFelicia Pearson, whowas born in a foster home, became a drug dealer as a teenager, went to prison for second-degree murder, and later got a guest role in season 3 of "The Wire," which expanded into a prominent role as Snoop in seasons 4 and 5. With her laid-back demeanor contrasting her calm, unfeeling approach to murder, Snoop became one of the series' most memorable characters.

It makes sense that "The Wire" was filled with so many former criminals in its minor roles — its creators, David Simon and Ed Burns, are both Baltimore natives, with Simon having worked as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun and Burns working as a homicide detective for 12 years. Creating a sense of authenticity to the Baltimore-based show was a priority for them.And considering how critical "The Wire" was of the city's justice system with its high recidivism rate, it was certainly fitting for them to give recently released inmates a helping hand.

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The Real-Life Inspiration For The Wire's Avon Barksdale - SlashFilm (2024)

FAQs

Who is the real life inspiration for The Wire? ›

Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale (1961 – February 13, 2016) was a Baltimore, Maryland, stick up kid dramatized in the HBO series The Wire, although the extent to which any of the show's characters or plot lines are based on his life is disputed.

Who was the inspiration for Avon Barksdale? ›

He has stated on The Wire DVD that Barksdale is a composite of several Baltimore drug dealers. Avon Barksdale is likely based, to some extent, on Melvin Williams (who plays the character of The Deacon) and Nathan Barksdale.

Was The Wire based on real events? ›

Conception. Simon has stated that he originally set out to create a police drama loosely based on the experiences of his writing partner Ed Burns, a former homicide detective and public school teacher who had worked with Simon on projects including The Corner (2000).

Is Avon Barksdale a real person? ›

As its title indicates, the film claims to tell the real events in the life of Baltimore drug kingpin Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale to expose his near namesake from The Wire (HBO, 2002-08), Avon Barksdale, as a fictional persona.

Who is Omar based on in real life? ›

David Simon has said that Omar is based on Shorty Boyd, Donnie Andrews, Ferdinand Harvin, Billy Outlaw, and Anthony Hollie, Baltimore stickup men who robbed drug dealers in the 1980s through early 2000s. Donnie Andrews later reformed, got married and helped troubled youths.

Who is McNulty The Wire based on? ›

McNulty is loosely based on Ed Burns, co-writer of the series.

What parts of The Wire are true? ›

Charismatic drug moguls such as Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell were based in part on real people, including “l*ttle Melvin” Williams (more on him later). Omar Little, the charismatic stickup man/anti-hero supreme, likewise drew from several actual Baltimoreans.

Who is Stringer Bell based on? ›

Origins. Stringer Bell's name is a composite of real Baltimore drug lords Stringer Reed and Roland Bell. His story bears many similarities to the life of Kenneth A. Jackson, including his crossover from the illegal drug trade to legitimate business ownership and political contributions.

What happened to Avon Barksdale in The Wire? ›

Avon finally incriminated himself on a hidden camera in his office sending D'Angelo to pick up a package of drugs. He was arrested on charges of possession with intent to distribute, but as this was the only arrest he had ever incurred he was sentenced to a total of seven years with possibility of parole.

What drug dealer was The Wire based on? ›

Nathan Barksdale, 54, the Baltimore drug kingpin who inspired some key characters on HBO's The Wire, died while in a federal medical prison in North Carolina on Saturday .

Who is Carcetti on The Wire based on? ›

Carlos Watson of MSNBC once introduced O'Malley as "one of the real-life inspirations for the mayor of the hit TV show The Wire", to which O'Malley responded that he was instead the show's "antidote". Show creator David Simon denied that the character of Tommy Carcetti was supposed to be O'Malley.

Who is Cutty from The Wire based on? ›

Dennis "Cutty" Wise is a fictional character inspired by real-life boxing trainer Calvin Ford on the HBO drama The Wire, played by actor Chad Coleman.

Who is Bodie on The Wire based on? ›

Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, the inspiration behind the show “The Wire,” has died in a federal prison. He was 54. Barksdale passed away from natural causes after being sick for a period of time, a spokesperson for the Baltimore City Health Department, Sean Naron, told CNN.

Who is the real gangster in The Wire? ›

As a middle-aged man, Melvin Williams, the actor who plays the Deacon, was a real-life drug kingpin who was arrested by series writer Ed Burns in 1984 when the latter was a Baltimore city police officer. Creator David Simon was responsible for covering the arrest for The Baltimore Sun at the time.

How old was Bodie in The Wire when he died? ›

Bodie's death was what ultimately convinced McNulty to return to the Major Crime Unit, as he wished to catch Marlo and end his violent ways. The report McNulty read about Bodie's murder listed his age as 26 at time of death.

Who were The Wire characters based on? ›

10 Real People That Inspired Characters on “The Wire” Lyrics
  • Shorty Boyd, Donnie Andrews, Ferdinand Harvin, Billy Outlaw and Anthony Hollie (inspiration for Omar Little)
  • Rick Requer (inspiration for Bunk Moreland)
  • Timmirror Stanfield (inspiration for Marlo Stanfield)
  • Melvin Williams (inspiration for Avon Barksdale)

What inspired through the wire? ›

"Through the Wire" was inspired by the 2002 car crash and West has provided a comedic account of his difficult recovery.

Is Stringer Bell based on a real person? ›

Origins. Stringer Bell's name is a composite of real Baltimore drug lords Stringer Reed and Roland Bell. His story bears many similarities to the life of Kenneth A. Jackson, including his crossover from the illegal drug trade to legitimate business ownership and political contributions.

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