Former drug smuggler and author Howard Marks (1997 file photo). Photo / Ben Curtis, PA via AP
Howard Marks, a convicted drug smuggler who reinvented himself as an author, raconteur and drug-reform campaigner after publishing best-selling autobiographyMr Nice, has died of cancer at age 70.
A statement on Marks’ website said he died in his sleep on Sunday “surrounded by his four loving children.”
Born in a coal-mining village in Wales in 1945, Marks studied physics and philosophy at Oxford University before becoming a marijuana dealer and then smuggler, building up a global business and cultivating an image as a countercultural entrepreneur.
One of his preferred routes was to smuggle drugs in the equipment of touring rock bands – without the bands’ knowledge.
He claimed to have lived under 43 aliases and worked as a spy for Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency.
Marks was acquitted of drug dealing after a British trial in 1980, but the scale of his operation soon had international law enforcement on his tail. He was arrested in Spain in 1988 in an operation led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, extradited to the United States and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was released on parole for good behavior in 1995.”Smuggling cannabis was a wonderful way of living – perpetual culture shock, absurd amounts of money, and the comforting knowledge of getting so many people stoned,” Marks told the Observer newspaper last year.
Mr Nice, a rollicking account of Marks’ criminal career, was published in 1996 and made him something of a folk hero. He had a column in a men’s magazine, toured a one-man show and ran unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1997 on a platform of legalising cannabis.
Mr Nice was turned into a 2010 film starring Rhys Ifans. Marks made a cameo appearance in 1999 nightclubbing movie Human Traffic, appeared on TV and was a regular at British music festivals.
Among his books
were an autobiographical sequel, Senor Nice
, and a crime novel,Sympathy for the Devil
“It’s impossible to regret any part of my life when I feel happy and I am happy now,” he told the Observer last year, after being diagnosed with inoperable bowel cancer. “So I don’t have any regrets and have not had any for a very long time.”