Donnie Andrews, at 58; reformed thief, hit man

Donnie Andrews was a reformed stickup man whose story inspired the character Omar Little on the acclaimed HBO drama ‘‘The Wire.’’

Brendan Smialowski/NY Times/2007

Donnie Andrews was a reformed stickup man whose story inspired the character Omar Little on the acclaimed HBO drama ‘‘The Wire.’’

NEW YORK — Donnie ­Andrews, a reformed stickup man whose story inspired the character Omar Little on the acclaimed HBO drama ‘‘The Wire,’’ died late Thursday or early Friday in Manhattan. He was 58.

He died of complications during emergency heart surgery, said Michael Millemann, one of his lawyers. He lived in Baltimore County, Md.


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?’ ’’

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

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.

But Mr. Andrews’s story was far from over. He kept in touch with Burns, and through him met David Simon, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.

Burns and Simon went on to write the book ‘‘The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood,’’ an intimate account of a city devastated by drugs and violence. It was adapted for an Emmy-winning HBO miniseries that paved the way for ‘‘The Wire,’’ which sprawled from the grimy streets to the halls of government in Baltimore.


Drawn from Mr. Andrews’s life, the character Omar Little was a thief who terrorized drug dealers. Mr. Andrews also wrote for the show and appeared as one of Omar’s allies.

Omar died without remorse, but Mr. Andrews sought redemption. He helped the government bring down a drug gang, provided information for murder investigations, and counseled addicts in prison.

He also helped addicts on the outside. One, introduced to him by Simon, was a troubled woman named Fran Boyd who became a focus of ‘‘The Corner.’’ Mr. Andrews called Boyd daily, and she took the calls regardless of her circumstances.

‘‘She’s smart, and I knew she could get herself straight,’’ Mr. Andrews said in 2007. ‘‘So I kept pushing, and then I got hooked on her.’’

Mr. Andrews left prison in 2005 after Boyd, Simon, Burns,and even Charles P. Scheeler, the federal prosecutor in his case, lobbied for his release. Mr. Andrews and Boyd married Aug. 11, 2007.

In his life after prison, Mr. Andrews counseled gang members and others at risk of street violence. He helped found a nonprofit group to spread his message in Baltimore.

Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.
We hope you've enjoyed your free articles.
Continue reading by subscribing to for just 99¢.
 Already a member? Log in Home
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of
Marketing image of