Sunday, December 16, 2012

Losing Omar again

Omar is dead.

Fans of The Wire and the world at large have lost Omar Little, for real this time.

Donnie Andrews, the man who was a primary inspiration for one of the most beloved characters on one of the most acclaimed TV shows works of literature in a generation passed away last week at age 58.

Donnie and Fran
If you are unfamiliar with Donnie, he played one of the guys who protects Omar when he goes to prison in Season 4, and then teams up with the stick-up boy later when he's out for revenge. (One of my favorite scenes in the series remains the one where Omar and Donnie are sitting in a car on a stakeout and Donnie is singing along with the radio. Just so sweet and simple and illustrative of an inherently benevolent soul.)

He, among others, was the inspiration for David Simon and Ed Burns when they conceived of the Omar character - a street thug with a conscience who robs drug dealers with high-calibre firearms.

Donnie's story is one that deserves to be preserved in the annals of literature (he did, in fact, survive a jump/fall from a six-story window to avoid a shootout). Turn to the pros for the details - the Baltimore Sun has the most comprehensive obit; the New York Times does a solid job too.

This, from the Times, would seem cheesy and contrived if it was in a TV show. As a true event, it's devastating:

Mr. Andrews was known for drug dealing and audacious robberies in West Baltimore in the 1970s and early ’80s. In September 1986, he agreed to kill a drug dealer for a rival to support his heroin habit. It was his first murder.
“My gun jammed,” Mr. Andrews told The New York Times in 2007. “So the guy was lying on the ground, and it gave him a chance to look me in the eye, and he said, ‘Why?’ ”        
Mr. Andrews killed the man but was haunted by his question. Months later, he turned himself in to Edward Burns, a Baltimore homicide detective. In 1987, he was sentenced to life in prison.    

Donnie would go on to reform himself in prison, working from inside to stop the violence on the streets and reaching out to youths and drug addicts to help get them on the right track.

My favorite arc in Donnie's story is a relationship he developed with another of Simon's protagonists, Fran Boyd from the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (if you have not read it yet, just do it).

The Times has covered this story very well, and you should read about it here. The short version is that Simon and Burns put Donnie in touch with Fran while she was in the throes of drug addiction. They talked regularly while he was still in prison, and it was partly his inspiration that helped her get clean. She, Simon and others lobbied hard for his early release, which he was granted in 2005. In 2007, Fran and Donnie were married, and David Simon was the best man. Read the wedding announcement in the Times here.

Unfortunately, it has been an increasingly difficult year for poor Fran. In August, her son DeAndre died at age 35 of an apparent drug overdose. DeAndre was another of the protagonists in The Corner and he lived a life that vacillated, almost moment to moment, between hope and despair (he also appeared in The Wire (as did Fran) as Brother Mouzone's bodyguard, Lamar, incidentally). Read David Simon's heartbreaking obituary of DeAndre here. This is real life that still aches beyond fades to black.

My sincerest thoughts and prayers for Fran. She is a survivor and a hero. Let her strength endure.

(Picture is from Donnie's anti-violence organization Why Murder?)

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