10 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Howard Marks’

In the world of high stakes international smuggling, few figures are as enigmatic or as renowned as the infamous Howard Marks. Known primarily for his drug trafficking exploits in the 1970s and 80s, Marks later became a bestselling author and popular public speaker known for his humorous and insightful views on life, crime, and punishment.

Despite his notorious reputation, there are still many intriguing details about Howard Marks that may surprise even those who are quite familiar with his public persona. Let’s delve into some of the lesser-known aspects of the life and times of Howard Marks.

1. Tutor at Oxford University

There’s an old saying that those who can’t do, teach. However, Howard Marks was both a doer and a teacher. Before his infamy as a drug lord, he was a respected educator. With a nuclear physics degree from Oxford University, Marks became a tutor at the esteemed university. He was responsible for instilling knowledge in the leaders of the future from a diverse array of fields.

This juxtaposition between academia and illegal activity elucidates the complexity of Marks’ character. He was in no way a stereotypical criminal. His intellect, charm, and affable nature set him apart from others of his notorious ilk.

2. Operative for the British Government

Not many individuals can claim to have gone from being an Oxford tutor to working as a government operative, but such is the dynamic life of Howard Marks. Marks’ smuggling operations led him to work with the British Secret Service, namely MI6.

It’s said that he was recruited due to his connections in the Middle Eastern hashish trade. His relationships with federal law enforcement and spy agencies were so deep-rooted that at times they shielded him from prosecution.

3. His Capture

Marks’ luck finally ran out when he was arrested in 1988 while living in Spain. His arrest came about due to a combined operation between American, Spanish, and British law enforcement agencies.

Despite claiming that he was working undercover for the British government, he was found guilty in a Florida court and sentenced to 25 years in prison, of which he served seven years before being released in 1995.

4. Bestselling Author

After his release, Howard Marks turned his experiences and adventures into a bestselling memoir, ‘Mr. Nice.’ Published in 1996, the book shares the story of his life in the drug world, his capture, and his time in prison.

‘Mr. Nice’ became an instant hit and garnered Marks a new level of fame and recognition. The success of the memoir catapulted him into a new career as a sought-after speaker and public figure.

5. Movie

The success of his memoir led to it being adapted into a film in 2010, named after his alias “Mr. Nice.” Marks was played by acclaimed actor Rhys Ifans, a friend of Marks since they were both students at the University of Wales.

The movie covered the fascinating journey of his life as a smuggler, his capture, subsequent imprisonment, and eventual release. It brought Marks’ story to an even larger audience and introduced a new generation to his intriguing exploits.

6. Frequent Run-Ins with Law Enforcement

Howard Marks cultivated more than 40 aliases, had 89 phone lines, and owned 25 companies for his smuggling operations. This extensive network and his elusive nature led him to evade prison sentences on numerous occasions. Marks was arrested multiple times in various countries but managed to slip through the fingers of law enforcement due to his cunning and resilience.

His ability to evade punishment almost became as legendary as his smuggling operations, leading to further fame and notoriety around the world.

7. Beat Cancer Twice

Howard Marks had a brush with death even before his final battle with cancer. He survived both lung and colorectal cancer, showing his immense strength and willpower. Despite his unhealthy habits and high-stress lifestyle, Marks managed to beat cancer twice, astounding his doctors and fans alike.

His victories against cancer added another layer to his legend, demonstrating his tenacity and the indomitable spirit that marked his life narrative.

8. Philanthropy

After serving his time in prison, Marks used his fame and influence to campaign for the reform of cannabis laws. He became a prominent supporter of many charitable organizations related to drug policy and prisoner rights.

Marks’ transformation from a drug smuggler to an advocate for drug reform was yet another unexpected twist in his life story, reflecting his intelligence, compassion, and unique perspectives on life.

9. Acting Career

Adding to his versatile resume, Marks also had an acting career. He featured in human rights activist Salman Rushdie’s film adaptation of his own book, ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet.’ He also appeared in a music video by Super Furry Animals, a Welsh rock band.

The public’s fascination with his persona made him an attractive figure in pop culture, and Marks was able to leverage this to appear in various forms of media beyond just writing his memoir.

10. Final Days

Despite beating cancer twice, Marks succumbed to the illness in 2016 at the age of 70. Nearing the end, he continued his public appearances and speeches, reflecting his indomitable spirit and continuous zest for life.

His death marked the end of a life that was larger than life, filled with adventure, charm, cunning, and resilience. Howard Marks left behind a legacy that continues to mesmerize and inspire, both as a cautionary tale and an immensely fascinating life narrative.

Learn more about Howard Marks:

Biography
BBC
CNN