Frank Lucas passed away from natural causes on Thursday night, May 30, aged 88, his nephew, Aldwan Lassiter, told Rolling Stone.
Originally born in North Carolina, Lucas rose to prominence dealing heroin in Harlem in the 1960s and '70s, claiming to have cut out the middlemen in the drug industry by importing his goods directly from Southeast Asia, allegedly smuggling it in via the coffins of U.S. military members killed in Vietnam.
He was busted by authorities in 1975, and sentenced to 70 years behind bars for federal and state drug charges, but had his punishment reduced to time served plus a lifetime of parole after five years in prison, having agreed to provide information on other top drug runners.
Lucas failed to stay out of trouble and was later sent back to prison for drug dealing, serving seven years before he walked free in the early 1990s.
His life story served as the basis for Washington's 2007 movie "American Gangster", which in turn inspired Jay-Z to release a concept album of the same name.