De’Andre L. McCullough, the young protagonist of the book “The Corner”, which chronicled a year on a drug-plagued street corner in West Baltimore and was turned into an HBO miniseries, died Wednesday of an apparent overdose in Baltimore County, according to police and relatives.
It marked the end of a long struggle with addiction for McCullough, 35, who showed promise of getting his life on track but was being sought at the time of his death on warrants charging him with two armed robberies at Baltimore pharmacies, police said.
Baltimore County police said McCullough was found at about 6:20 p.m. on Aug. 1 by a girlfriend inside a residence in Woodlawn. The medical examiner's office has not determined a cause of death, but family said there was evidence of an overdose.
“De’Andre was very special and very talented, but he could get in his own way quicker than his shadow,” said Donnie Andrews, who was an inspiration for the “Omar” character on “The Wire” and married McCullough’s mother, Fran Boyd, in 2007. “It was a demon inside of him that he couldn’t get rid of.”
David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun reporter who co-wrote the 1997 book “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood,” said Deandre grew up in a hopeless area of Baltimore. As a young teen he slung drugs on the corner with friends — “a rite of passage in places like Fayette Street” — and lived in a home where both parents struggled with severe addiction.
“He was living in a rough house, a house where police kicked in the door twice a month whether [they] needed to or not,” Simon said. “It was a level of addiction in his household that was quite dramatic.”
McCullough was smart and had a biting sense of humor, once explaining to Simon, whom he saw wandering the city’s tough neighborhoods, why he decided to help him research the book. “You looked so stupid and so out of place that I felt sorry for you,” Simon recalled him saying.
He went from selling drugs to abusing them. Ed Burns, a former city police officer and co-writer of “The Corner,” said in a 2004 interview that De’Andre was “a cool kid. He was a great street fighter. He had a great sense of humor. And he was into a little marijuana. ... By the end of the year, he was sniffing heroin and cocaine.”
“The Corner” ended with De’Andre’s first adult arrest, and Simon recalled that McCullough was frustrated with that conclusion. “He said, ‘You write that like it’s the end. Maybe that’s not the end,’” Simon said.
McCullough’s father died of a drug overdose as the book was being prepared, and many of his friends were gunned down in drug violence.
Boyd, his mother, overcame her addiction, and would marry Andrews after being introduced by Simon and Burns. She became a drug counselor and adopted nieces and nephews from other relatives battling addiction. Her adopted children are all attending school or college and doing well, Andrews said.
But McCullough couldn’t shake his addiction.
“There’s been a lot of success for Fran, and that’s important to say,” Simon said in an interview Friday. “She did everything possible [for De'Andre]. At points she was encouraging and generous, with second chances upon second chances. At other points, she tried tough love and set rules and boundaries. She tried everything under the sun. Nothing worked.”
McCullough earned his G.E.D., attended Baltimore Community College for a semester, and held several jobs, including working at a youth counselor. Simon helped him land work on his television projects, both acting — he appeared on “The Corner” and “The Wire,” the latter as an assistant to the character Brother Mouzone — and behind-the-scenes, including set construction on “Treme,” which was filmed in New Orleans.
“It was my great hope not to see him fail, and to see him have a meaningful life,” Simon said. “When he would express interest in working on the television shows from ‘Homicide’ on, invariably, the longest run was a couple of paychecks before he started falling out.”
City police said that they had linked McCullough to a June 8 robbery at the Westside Pharmacy and Wellness store in the 2000 block of W. Pratt St., where employees reported a man indicated he had a handgun and took medications and oxycodone.
Then on June 22, police said, McCullough went behind the counter at the Sunrise Pharmacy in the 1900 block of E. Northern Parkway, produced a silver automatic handgun and took bottles of morphine and other prescription medications. No one was harmed, and in both instances he allegedly made his demands using a note.
He had recently entered the Tuerk House treatment facility and planned to turn himself in on the warrants, but Simon said he feared returning to prison, where he would face a difficult detoxification.
Andrews said McCullough’s struggle underscores the need to understand addiction and trauma. “We have a whole city of Andres running around, who pass dead bodies on the way to school and take drugs hide their emotions,” he said. “Drug addiction is a medical problem, and people should address it as such. It doesn’t mean people are monsters, it means they have a problem.”
Services for McCullough will be held at Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Bethel A.M.E. Church in West Baltimore.
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