Donnie Andrews, the Inspiration for Omar on The Wire, Has Died

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 14 2012 5:26 PM

The Real-Life Inspiration for One of TV’s Greatest Characters Has Died

1355522721264
Donnie Andrews on The Wire

YouTube

Donnie Andrews, the real-life inspiration for one of The Wire’s most beloved characters, Omar Little, has passed away after an emergency heart surgery. Andrews, who spent his youth in Baltimore robbing drug dealers with a .44 magnum, first met David Simon, creator of the show, while he was serving a life sentence in a Phoenix prison for murder. Simon was then a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, and he would later become the writing partner of homicide detective Ed Burns, to whom Andrews turned himself in after what he says was his one and only murder. In prison, Andrews became one of the Baltimore Police Department’s best informants for all of the gang and drug-related activity in the city.

Omar from the Wire.
Still of Omar Little from “The Wire”

Paul Shiraldi / HBO.

Andrews devoted his time in prison to rehabilitation, and, after serving only 17 years, he was released in 2005. He was helped by testimonies from several people who helped put him behind bars—as well as Fran Boyd, a recovering drug addict whom he later married, and who also collaborated with Simon. (She is one of the principal characters in the book he co-wrote with Burns, The Corner.) Boyd and the others convinced a judge that Andrews was reformed.

Advertisement

Once free, Andrews joined the writing staff of The Wire, using his personal experiences and stories to help create the character of Omar—a composite of Andrews and several other Baltimore stick-up men. He even landed a spot among the other local cast members, playing a character also named Donnie, a member the inner circle of Butchie, one of Omar’s most trusted friends on the show. Andrews’ final scene, in which Omar narrowly escapes an ambush by Marlo Stanfield’s crew by jumping out of a fifth-story window, was based on Andrews’ own alleged experience—though he claimed it was actually a sixth-story window.

Andrews was reportedly nearing 60. Earlier this year, DeAndre McCullough, who featured prominently in the Simon and Burns book The Corner and also played a part on The Wire, died at age 35.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Resigns

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 4:46 PM Ebola Is No Measles. That’s a Good Thing. Comparing this virus to scourges of the past gives us hope that we can slow it down.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.