Frank Lucas, the notorious Harlem gangster that inspired Denzel Washington’s character in the 2007 film American Gangster has died. He was 88.

His death, which happened on Thursday in New Jersey, was confirmed by his nephew Aldwan Lassiter. The cause of death is not clear, though his lawyer said that Lucas’ health had been in decline.

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Lucas became a major drug dealer in 1960s and 70s New York, known for supplying huge amounts of potent heroin called “Blue Magic.” His booming business eventually expanded into Chicago, Miami, Detroit and Puerto Rico.

In 1975, he was captured and sentenced to seven decades in prison, but was released after only five years in exchange for becoming an informant. However, he was quickly re-arrested for drug dealing and served seven more years in prison.

He came into national consciousness again in 2007 when Denzel Washington played him in the Ridley Scott-directed American Gangster. He was said to be a fixture on the film set and gave Washington advice on how to play his character. The movie earned two Academy Award nominations.

Washington has yet to comment publicly on Lucas’ death.

In 2010, Lucas released a book on his life titled “Original Gangster.”

He is survived by his seven children.


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