Boston George’s Big Score
When George Jung finally walked out of New Jersey’s Fort Dix prison on an ordinary Monday last June, he was thinking about chowder. At 71, he’d spent the past 20 years locked up and goddammit, he’d always missed the food from his childhood in the Boston suburbs.
He settled for a half-assed bowl, his first since the Clinton administration, at the airport in Philadelphia—as close as he’d make it to his native Weymouth. He wasn’t headed home, yet. Instead, he was en route to a halfway house in Northern California as part of his supervised release. And so he was forced to eat his off-brand chowder with an agent of the federal court system—not with a beautiful woman, who might have joined him 30 years ago during his heyday, when he was the right-hand man and smuggling king for one of the world’s largest and most fearsome cocaine cartels. In his mind, though, Jung felt like he was back in the late 1970s, sitting on the sun deck of his beach home in Cape Cod. And the white chowder in the Styrofoam cup tasted just fine.
After the meal and a cross-country flight, Jung landed in San Francisco, where TMZ paparazzi were waiting to videotape his return to the world. “Life’s a rodeo and all you have to do is stay in the saddle,” Jung told the camera, beaming at the attention. “I’m back in the saddle again.”
As stage entrances go, it couldn’t have been scripted any better for Jung, who was famously portrayed by Johnny Depp in the 2001 movie Blow. With no marketable skills to speak of, it’s hard to blame him for hoping that his criminal celebrity will somehow pay off. “What can George do?” says Tom Tiderington, a former Fort Lauderdale, Florida, narcotics detective who busted Jung in 1985. “He has no résumé, and he’s set up for failure. The only thing he has is the residual value of his past.”
Jung graduated from Weymouth High School in 1961 as a star-spangled football hero, but gained fame years later as “Boston George,” a nickname used by his former confederate Pablo Escobar. At one time Jung was the only American working for the Medellin cartel, which smuggled billions of dollars of cocaine into the United States. “There was an 85 percent chance that if you snorted cocaine between 1977 and 1984, it was ours,” Jung has said with a touch of pride. It eventually, and predictably, landed him behind bars for two decades. The Depp film cemented his fame while he was locked up, and by the time Jung was released this summer, he had convinced himself that the straight world outside the prison walls would readily embrace him. After all, wasn’t he adored from afar by the reported 6 million Americans who regularly used cocaine during the 1980s? Hell, this was going to be easy. His prospects seemed to be confirmed when he got a call, shortly after his release, on his brand-new Alcatel cell phone.
“How’s it going, motherfucker?” the voice on the other end whispered.
“Thanks for calling,” Jung said. “Jesus, I feel like Brando in On the Waterfront.”
“You are Brando,” said the voice, familiar to anyone who’s seen a movie in the past 20 years. It was Johnny Depp. Hello, Hollywood.
When they spoke, Depp was coincidentally in Boston, making what Jung refers to as “that movie about the sociopath.” For reasons that remain unclear, Jung refuses to mention the name James “Whitey” Bulger or the biopic, Black Mass, in which Depp plays the famed South Boston gangster. Perhaps he fears he’ll be upstaged as the biggest Boston criminal in Depp’s life. “He asked me for any good restaurants on Cape Cod,” Jung recalls, in a tone meant to convey that talking to movie stars is no big deal. “I told him about the Esplanade and the Charles and the Boston Symphony playing there.”
Jung’s cocaine empire—once estimated at $100 million—has crumbled, but he is certain he can rebuild his fortune, this time by cashing in on his celebrity. He even has a plan.
George Jung may be out of the narcotics business, but he is very into the business of being Boston George.
Like Jesse James, John Dillinger, and Clyde Barrow, the personable outlaw is a tenant of our cult-of-celebrity culture. Jung is the epitome of the hippie rebel without even trying—his lore and legacy an intoxicating trail of good vibes and hearty times. But let’s be clear: He most decidedly does not look like Johnny Depp, one of the great faces of film history.
At about 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Jung has a face so crooked it should have its own parole officer. Rivers of wrinkles run up, down, and sideways, interrupted by a hawkish nose. His mouth turns upward and left when he talks, and his hair is the envy of any respectable septuagenarian, brown and flowing south to his clavicle with a middle part. The wrinkles are hard earned from years of heavy cocaine use, relentless drinking, and then sitting in a prison cell for nearly half of his life. The creases come also from the stress of living in a world where a close friend could betray you at any second. With his New England accent a fading memory, Jung notes that he was a “thrill junkie,” living for the next delivery more than the next blast of blow or dough. These days, however, he knows his intentions are legit, because “the thrill is gone.”