Howard Marks, UK's 'most charming drug smuggler', dies

Oxford University educated 'Mr Nice' had been suffering from cancer

Howard Marks poses in Paris in March 2011
(Image credit: FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Convicted drug runner, raconteur and writer, Howard Marks has died at the age of 70, after suffering from cancer. He was "Britain's most charming drug smuggler", says The Guardian.

Marks, also known as "Mr Nice", enjoyed a second career as a raconteur, author and journalist after serving time for his long career of moving soft drugs across national borders.

Born near Bridgend in Wales, he was the first pupil of Garw Grammar School to win a place at Oxford University. It was while studying physics there that he began a life-long love affair with cannabis.

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Graduating at the height of the "flower power" cultural revolution in 1967, Marks decided against an academic career in favour of a life of crime and "gradually became one of the biggest traffickers of cannabis in Europe", says the Guardian.

Marks used the sound systems of British bands - some of them fictional - to smuggle the drug into the US, again and again. He was finally arrested in 1973, in the Netherlands, and accused of international trafficking.

He went on the run and, over the next seven years, slipped in and out of the UK, using, he claimed, 43 different aliases – including Mr Nice, which later became the title of his autobiography.

Marks finally stood trial in 1980, says the BBC, but was "miraculously" acquitted – the Guardian puts his escape down to his considerable charm, as well as his alleged connections to South American security services, for whom he claimed to have been working, with the drug smuggling as cover.

A trial in the US followed in 1990 and Marks was sentenced to 25 years, serving his time in Terre Haute, in Indiana, which he claimed was the toughest jail in the States. The Guardian says he "taught grammar to the inmates".

He was released after seven years and published Mr Nice as soon as he was free. It became a best-seller and led to a second career as a columnist, raconteur and author of detective novels.

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