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Donnie Andrews, inspiration for Omar character on 'The Wire,' dies

December 14, 2012|By Justin Fenton and Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

The Times featured their story on the front page, describing it as “a lengthy courtship that was as much about turning their lives around as it was about finding each other … a source of inspiration for the grittier parts of West Baltimore, where few people who end up on the corner using and selling drugs manage to break free, and even fewer return to make a difference.”

Simon had sent Andrews copies of the newspaper while he was incarcerated, and Andrews would call him with information about crime taking place on city streets. Simon made him a consultant on his HBO show “The Wire,” where Andrews was among the inspirations for the Omar, the drug assassin with a moral code who was based on several real-life stick-up men that Burns had encountered.

President Obama said in March that Omar was his favorite character on the show.

Andrews appeared on screen as one of Omar’s crew, and died in a shootout scene where Omar leaps from a four-story building and escapes. Andrews said that really happened to him — but he had jumped from the sixth-story.

On Friday, Michael Kenneth Williams, the actor who played Omar, wrote on Twitter: “R.I.P. to the original gangsta and a stand up dude.”

Andrews had spent recent years trying to ramp up work through his “Why Murder?” foundation, and he has been featured in documentaries about the drug war and in talks at Harvard University, where “The Wire” is taught in a class.

“He turned his life around. He patiently waited for 18 years and came out and became a remarkable asset to this community,” Scheeler said, mentioning he last saw Andrews a week ago when they were working together on the project to have greenhouses for the urban farming initiative in the Oliver neighborhood.

Said Simon: “On paper, he’s a murderer. We’ve constructed a criminal justice system that doesn’t allow for the idea of redemption, and Donnie puts a lie to that.”

He was in New York with Boyd for a screening of a documentary, Simon said. Andrews died after suffering an aortic dissection, which begins with a tear in the wall of the major artery carrying blood out of the heart.

jfenton@baltsun.com

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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