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Howard Marks obituary: From drug smuggling to writing

Huw Thomas


Monday 11 Apr 2016

Howard Marks was the criminal who police said was at the centre of the world's biggest cannabis deals in the 1970s and '80s.

He gained notoriety for his smuggling exploits and spent years on the run before he was caught in Spain in 1988 and extradited to the US.

A year after being released early from an American prison for good behaviour, Marks put pen to paper to write his memoirs.

Mr Nice became a bestseller and was turned into a film, while Marks also spent years campaigning to reform drugs laws.
Graduate dealer

Marks, who has died aged 70 a year after being diagnosed with cancer, was born in Kenfig Hill, Bridgend county, in 1945.

He was an unlikely drugs smuggler, having received a physics degree from Oxford University.

Although he smoked cannabis as a student, it was after graduating that he began dealing the drug.

His involvement escalated as he began smuggling cannabis around the world, relying on multiple identities and a well-connected network of friends to evade justice.

It was also claimed Marks worked for MI6, which was said to have been impressed by his criminal contacts, who included members of the IRA.

He was eventually arrested in Spain by American drug enforcement officers and extradited to Florida the following year to face trial.

In 1990, he was found guilty of smuggling cannabis and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

But his good behaviour saw him released in 1995, and he subsequently chronicled his smuggling exploits in his book.

Mr Nice was translated into several languages, while a film based on the book was released in 2010 with the actor Rhys Ifans playing Marks.

Marks also began campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis, and stood for election to Parliament in 1997 on a single-issue ticket of reforming drugs laws.

He also cultivated a reputation as a raconteur and a cultural icon.

Marks regularly toured a one-man show in which he recounted stories about drug smuggling and his time in prison.

As well as the film version of Mr Nice, he had cameo roles in the 1999 movie Human Traffic and appeared on TV shows including Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

He also collaborated on songs with the Super Furry Animals and made appearances at the Glastonbury festival.

In January 2015, he revealed he had been diagnosed with inoperable bowel cancer, prompting some of his celebrity friends to organise a fundraising evening in London, which included performances by Rhys Ifans, Cerys Matthews and the Super Furry Animals.

A follow-up to his autobiography, Mr Smiley: My Last Pill and Testament, was published in autumn 2015.

He told me in an interview in October 2015 he had no regrets and was happy - he was "living with cancer not dying from cancer".




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