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Donnie Andrews: The Real Omar Little

By John Glynn on Sep 19, 2013 to HBO Classics

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“You come at the king you best not miss” – Omar Little; the name alone conjures up images of a truly iconic character, a man who didn’t just transform The Wire and HBO, but also fiction and quite possibly hell. Living a rather precarious life, Omar specialized in robbing and ripping off drug dealers with his shotgun and mob of merry men. As ruthless as Omar was, the man had his code, an ethical conscience, ensuring that he never killed a civilian. A character that will forever be remembered and celebrated; let us never forget the joyous “It’s Omar! It’s Omar!” screams from those pesky street kids.

A complex character, Omar was much more than shotguns and planned robberies; he was a deep man who lost his one true love, Brandon. Driven by a burning desire to change the game, I believe Omar finally realized that the game never really changes. And, ultimately, like every member of society, we all meet our fate. Through all five seasons of The Wire, we watched Omar outwit gang members, no matter how many he was faced with, but his ultimate fate rested firmly in the hands of a little boy, an individual whose life is destined to involve playing out the rather adventurous game.

 

Fans of “The Wire” all have their preferred characters from HBO series – and so does one of the coolest men in politics, President Obama. Jay Z’s bud informed the world during an interview with Grantland’s Bill Simmons. Simmons asked the pressing question, something far more important than tax incentives or social welfare, “Settle an office debate. Best ‘Wire’ character of all time?” Obama, probably relishing an opportunity to discuss something other than politics, answered forcefully, “It’s got to be Omar, right?” adding, “I mean, that guy is unbelievable, right?”

Omar Little, played on the Baltimore-set series by Michael K. Williams, can certainly hold his head high, praise like that does not come every day. “What a combination,” Mr. Obama added, finishing up with a sentence that is extremely true, “that was one of the best shows of all time.”

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But, tell me this, where did the inspiration for Omar Little come from? Donnie Andrews, a man who died last December of heart problems in New York, is the true inspiration behind the fictional character from “The Wire,” the affable thief who terrorized so many. Like the television character he helped inspire and build, Donnie Andrews lived by a practice, an unbreakable code. His early life exploits – experiences that would later form the foundation for the Omar- as a young hustler in West Baltimore were bloody and violent, however, Donnie vowed to never involve women or children in his often premeditated crimes. A truly unique individual, shortly after confessing to a murder and assisting authorities foil the operations of a powerful crime syndicate, Andrews took on a different vocation: discouraging teens from going down the very same path that he did.                                                                                                 

Andrews, who died following heart complications while in New York City, had been surrounded by violence from an early age. Mentally and physically abused by his mother, Andrews, at the age of 10, watched from behind a washing machine as a man was bludgeoned to death. Growing up in the housing projects of West Baltimore, the youngster was mentored by hustlers and drug dealers, dangerous men with nothing but dangerous motives. Donnie adopted and nurtured a chilling persona, becoming a skilled stick-up artist, robbing other drug dealers with his trusty .44 Magnum. In an interview with The Independent (U.K.), Donnie confessed, “the word ‘future’ wasn’t even in my vocabulary, because I didn’t know if I’d be alive or dead tomorrow. They had a bet in my neighborhood that I wouldn’t reach 21.”                                                                            

A remarkably dark time, 1986 was a year that transformed the life of Donnie Andrews. Lured in by drug kingpin Warren Boardley and looking to support a heroin addiction, Andrews impulsively accepted a contract killing, pairing up with Reggie Gross for the lethal, close-range assassinations of Rodney “Touche” Young and Zachary Roach. Former lead prosecutor, Charles Scheeler, praised Andrews. Donnie was different from other suspects, Scheeler alluded to the fact that the killer turned himself in and never once angled for a lesser, more lenient sentence. Donnie simply confessed to the crime, took his punishment and decided to try and rebuild his character and esteem.                  

After confessing to this heinous crime, Andrews agreed to work closely with the police department. Some of his most daring adventures involved wearing a wire, something which obviously carried great personal risk. Edward Burns, an ex-police detective, said Andrews once slipped past three groups of bodyguards to get to a kingpin, managing to pick up conversations implicating hardened criminals.

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Although Andrews turned himself in and agreed to work closely with the police force, he was sentenced to life in federal prison. His first few attempts at receiving parole were futile, but he made the most of any opportunity to improve himself as a human being. Adapting to this harsh environment was tough, however, Andrews began to exercise, overcome his crippling drug habit, and study the Bible on a daily basis. Hours upon hours were devoted to reading the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and the works of other writers. In countless interviews, Andrews has confessed that reading played crucial role in maintaining his sanity while incarcerated. Buoyed by Martin Luther’s words, Andrew worked closely with young prisoners and, upon his release, established programs to discourage kids from entering a life governed by drug lords and deceit. Clearly inspired, this is just a snippet from a speech that Donnie gave to a group of juvenile delinquents.

“I’m 55 years old and spent 28 years in prison. I took a life. I did a lot of things to a lot of people who looked like me. I did things against my own people: My sons, my daughters, and my community. The neighborhood is now boarded up, destroyed because of what I did.”

Andrews dedicated his time in prison to rehabilitation and moral recuperation, and, after serving just 17 years, he was released in 2005. Ironically, several people who helped put him behind bars ended up testifying and ensuring his early release. Upon release, Andrews joined The Wire’s writing team, reflecting upon his personal experiences to help fashion the legendary Omar. FYI, Omar’s’ final scene involving an ambush by Marlo Stanfield’s crew was actually inspired by Andrews’ very own experience.

An extraordinary man who inspired an extraordinary character, RIP, Mr. Andrews.

  • Nahojism

    Omar was the “Richard” of The Wire.

  • John Glynn

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I totally agree with MJ, Michal K is just a fantastic actor, he has a presence that is intimidating yet magnetic.

  • One of the top 5 best shows ever produced. The Wire is amazing and while it’s hard to think of a character that wasn’t great, Omar was the best of the best. Michael K. Hall is, in my opinion, one of the most talented actors of our time. Great to get to read about the inspiration behind the character, Mr. Andrews sounds like he was a fascinating man, indeed.

  • Sebastian Rothwyn

    The Wire is one of the finest TV shows ever written and performed. I’ve watched every episode and it is fascinating how intricately it was made and how eerily good the performances were. As with the finest shows, one forgets that these are actors and forgets that this is fiction (mostly). We were taken on a journey that broadened our minds forever.

  • Cheryl David-Bailey

    Though I’ve never really watched The Wire I have caught Omar in action once or twice and I have to admit every time I saw the character that played Omar I’d think there’s my boy Omar .










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