‘BLOW’: The True Story behind the film starring Johnny Depp
By Tina Bexson for Hotdog Magazine
Johnny Depp starred as George Jung the small town boy who rapidly transformed into a bloated coke baron. Here is the true story behind the film:
It could have been a scene out of Scarface. A group of men are coolly snorting perfectly cut lines of pure cocaine from a silver platter as they eagerly discuss future business deals. But who’s that man, the one in the corner, frantically vacuuming whole boulevards up each nostril? The gringo whom the Colombians trusted to be their first link with the United States and now responsible for importing more than 80% of his country’s cocaine supply?
Exceptional entrepreneurs come in many guises and occasionally originate from the most unexpected of beginnings. In 1950’s small town America, George Jacob Jung, is keen on fish, diligently attending a large tank of them in his bedroom where the walls are lined with clippings from the local Massachusetts’ paper singing his praises as a halfback for WeymouthHigh School. But in 1967 he lands on Manhattan Beach in southern California where just about everyone he encounters has some kind of involvement in drugs. Although this fit 25-year old has never smoked as much as a cigarette before, he soon partakes – even if it does mean filtering the pot through a water pipe filled with ice cubes and crème de menthe so his throat can handle the harsh marijuana joints.
George has found his calling card. Likening himself to Butch Cassidy, he moves a rapidly expanding operation down to Mexico. By 1974 marijuana’s popularity almost matches that of alcohol and when he faces trial for possessing a truckload at the Playboy Club in Chicago he promptly informs the judge that “it is foolish to sentence a man to prison for crossing an imaginary line with a bunch of plants.” The judge, who doesn’t lack a sense of humour, abandons a three-year deal and sends George down to Danbury penitentiary for four years.
Perhaps his disdain for authority is linked to the fact that the ‘truckload incident’ took place eighteen months previously and the only reason he has to face the music is because his mother didn’t take too kindly to her federal bond jumping druggy son, and grassed him up to an FBI agent on his trail.
In one way or another, prison is a turning factor in most criminals’ lives. No, George doesn’t ‘see the light’, something far more ‘electrifying’ steadily sinks under his skin in the form of Carlos Lehder, his charming young Colombian bunkmate. The couple bond and George explains the workings of his pot business along with his views on existentialism. “It’s simple. It’s free will,” he would say. He spends even longer patiently listening to Carlos idolise the revolutionary Che Guevara. Then one day Carlos politely asks George, in his very careful but excellent English, “George, do you know anything about cocaine?”
Once he hears that cocaine sells for $60,000 a kilo in the States when it costs no more than $4,000 to $5,000 in Colombia, the tills ring very loudly. “I couldn’t believe it”, he remembers. “Here I was, a kid from a fucking shithole town like Weymouth, smuggling some lousy marijuana – and I thought that was money! – And all of a sudden I knew I was going to have millions of millions of dollars. I didn’t just get sent to jail. I got sent a gift! I was thankful they put me there. ‘Thank you, federal government. Thank you, fucking FBI. You don’t know what you did for me.’”
Their planning includes everything from methods of transportation to money laundering. Craving the thrill of risk, George is desperate to return to smuggling. What’s more, his whole amour-propre relies wholly on mastering the art of defying the system. Shortly after release in 1975, with his hunger still fully intact, he manages to do this very effectively indeed, despite being on parole. The first import of 15 kilos, for which George gets his calm and collected kleptomaniac girlfriend and her mate to bring back from Antigua in Samsonite suitcases, soon vanishes via wholesaler, Mr T, earning him $45,000 a kilo.
‘Silver Fox’, a suave and sophisticated lawyer, and his twin-engine Cessna 310, are recruited to fly 300 kilos of 100% pure cocaine from Medellin, Colombia, back via the Bahamas. The Silver Fox has excellent contacts in Nassau, where the plane is safely left overnight before re-fuelling and returning on a Sunday night with the “mom and pop planes” so it can get lost in the radar, enter the country illegally, and land at a private airfield in North Carolina. The goods are delivered to Mr T in jars of Coffee-mate with the seal expertly glued back on, accompanied by Wheaties and Dipsy Dooldles in a grocery bag. The maiden voyage produces a mammoth $90 million in eventual revenue, and the Colombians are shown for the first time that you can take massive amounts of cocaine and simply drop it into the United States where an equally huge market will lap it up within days. It’s the beginning of the Medellin cartel headed by the infamous Pablo Escobar with Carlos and George organising the transportation and distribution.
By the late seventies the Colombians are keener than ever to provide them with endless supplies for the West Coast where Hollywood in particular has made it not only acceptable, but fashionable too. George buys a fleet of Learjets since small planes and commercial airlines can no longer carry the load, let alone travel fast enough. Life is good: “I had unlimited access to Cocaine and even if I looked like Bela Lugosi, I still had the most beautiful women on the planet because everybody at that time, especially women, were in love with cocaine and of course in love with the money…I was no different to a rock star or movie star. I was a coke star.” Carlos though isn’t. He vehemently disapproves of mixing pleasure and business, referring to cocaine as “poison”.
George finds the sex equally pleasurable, as long as it involves a bit of S & M, and being manacled to the bed whilst given a good going over with a bullwhip by a prostitute clad in four inch heels and a spiked leather collar. The session has to end with two hours of sex for which he is fitted with a cock ring tightened at the base with two plastic clips so he won’t ejaculate until the appropriate time. Expending so much energy in the bedroom along with spending 25 hours a week on planes means that even the coke can’t keep George awake all the time. “I didn’t know where I was half the time,” he says. “I’d fall asleep in the plane and wake up in my seat not knowing whether it was the money I had with me or the cocaine or which airport I was landing at.”
The long-term plan has always been to set up home on the Barrier Reef, Australia or in the Costa del Sol, but not just yet, first he’ll make another couple of million. A perfect opportunity to do just this arises when Carlos temporarily disappears after his car is searched at a border crossing on his way to pick up $2 millions worth of cocaine from George in Florida. Presuming Carlos will get arrested, George realises he could quite easily take off and disappear with the coke. But instead, he unloads it, collects the money and hands it over. “I suddenly saw how this could be great for me, really help me get my foot in the door,” he says. “The Colombians would start seeing me as trustworthy. So I said to myself ‘You’re not just looking at $2 million here. What you’re looking at is $200 million!’” But blatant greed is not the determining factor in this decision, the self-esteem he receives from being “the golden goose” with the Colombians is much more important.
Speak to any illegally self-made millionaire, and they will tell you that one of the most burdensome things about hoards of cash is not only the counting, recounting, stacking, wrapping and packaging, but the decision on where to put it. When George has nearly $6 million in cash in one hundred dollar bills, which when piled in a single stack is as high as a two-story house, he decides to buy a storage property. This is a three-story cottage looking over Cape CodBay with specially constructed additional heating ducts in the basement to stash the cash. It beat his previous method of lining the floors and walls. And after he conveniently marries into a Colombian family in 1978, the safe house also proves useful in providing him and his young bride, Mirtha, with a very special fantasy room in which George can transform himself into ‘Georgette’, the slave of ‘Mistress Mirth’. This scenario involves a lot more than bullwhips and handcuffs.
George’s cocaine use is also escalating out of control, with him regularly snorting up to 5 grams daily and experiencing frequent bouts of paranoia and the hallucinations of cocaine psychosis. Then, shortly after his daughter is born and after consuming a record 25 grams within 15 hours, he suffers one “sledgehammer” of a cocaine heart attack. With both his health and the new arrival to take care of, things inevitably calm down and some kind of normality reaches the Jung household.
Carlos, meanwhile, is obsessed with transforming Norman Cay in the Bahamas into something out of Dr. No. He’d managed to buy up almost every house on the island, build an elaborate entertainment complex including casino, and now has drug flights landing and taking off from the islands airstrip around the clock – all patrolled by viciously armed body guards accompanied by equally savage Dobermans. He is also beginning to lose his mind and talks incessantly of how cocaine is the atomic bomb and he is going to drop it on America. George has been unceremoniously dropped from this vast venture, just as he had previously been cut out as the middle man shortly after he’d introduced Carlos to one of his wholesaler friends a year before. “Bob Dylan said, ‘If you live outside the law, you must be honest.’ But I found that with the people you dealt with in the cocaine business, it didn’t really pay,” George later lamented.
Despite his new contacts via Mirtha’s family, and a rapidly expanding Panamanian bank account, George knows he has come out the loser. And one night whilst dining with his in-laws, he is handed an ice pick by an elderly aunt, who promptly tells him: “The whole is so small, a person doesn’t bleed. If you don’t get him now, everyone will look down on you.” George thinks slightly differently at the time: “I knew I wasn’t going to kill anyone with a fucking ice pick. If I was going to get someone, I was going to shoot him”, he recalls. But despite a later near fatal car bomb attack from Carlos, George never retaliates. Extreme forms of violence are not something he feels comfortable with.
This became particularly apparent during his first visit to Pablo Escobar, the man the Colombians now refer to as “the Godfather”. He vividly remembers those few days in Medellin: “Pablo took out this big fucking rock of cocaine and slams it on the table, then he takes a machete and hacked it in half. It was tinged blue, like the inside of a cave line with ice…We had a couple of large hits from his spoon…. He said he liked me and that I was a ‘good gringo’.” The next day George witnesses his first execution as Pablo shoots a police informer. It’s a frightening experience for him: “In their eyes I was supposed to be this big fucking American gangster, and they were all these macho guys acting casual about it, so I was trying to be casual too. Inside, I’m thinking, ‘Holy shit! I’m glad he doesn’t think I’m a maleton.’”
During the late summer of 1980 an undercover cop is assigned to stalk out George and this finally culminates in him being busted at one of his celebratory parties in the Cape. If convicted he will go down for at least ten years. So he skips out, and with Mirtha and the baby, takes off to Miami. All three are in disguise with new identities, but the next few years see a flurry of further arrests, jumping bail and spells in jail.
By 1985 Prince and Madonna are topping the charts whilst George is on the run, alone, now Mirtha has left him. He gets an old friend to fly in a load before planning to live down in Colombia, but the friend works for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency). The climactic bust takes place in a prosperous Fort Lauderdale neighbourhood with George sitting in the house snorting cocaine in a state of absolute elation.
George agreed to testify against Carlos, and in doing so managed to walk out of prison in 1989, a free man, though flat broke since his $68 million in the Panama account strangely disappeared. He earned a living transporting fish up and down Cape Cod, taking home $150 a week, at least until 1990 when a former Newsweek editor, Bruce Porter, began research on a biographical account of George’s life, “Blow”, and they spend a year together re-visiting George’s old haunts. After all the excitement of the book being published in 1993 had died down, George went back into the pot business, and Porter believes, partly because of his tendency to brag, was soon arrested with 500 pounds of marijuana in his basement.”
Today George is in a New YorkState federal prison serving a 22-year sentence handed out in 1994. But at least he has recently been upgraded to “King of the prison” what with the likes of Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz turning up to visit him during the filming of “Blow”.
His future is uncertain, and Porter, who keeps in regular contact with George in prison, says that despite his authority of the drugs world, “George is very naïve about the film business”. “He thinks that once he hits Hollywood on his release he will be taken care of by Ted Demme and all the others that played up to him during the making of the film. He translated that in his mind as love for George. His need for love made his judgements go out the window, and that is all connected with his self-loathing.”
So why did George return to smuggling having made such a miraculous ‘escape’ in 1989? “He didn’t know what else to do but he didn’t really care about the money”, explains Porter, “it was the life style he craved because it was all he had to provide him with self-esteem, and he had no fear of the danger because he cared absolutely nothing about himself. This was what his mother had bequeathed him, and that, I think, is the key to George.”
© Tina Bexson