DeAndre McCullough (1977-2012)

03 Aug
August 3, 2012

To remember him as we met him, twenty years ago, is to know everything that was lost, everything that never happened to a boy who could surprise you with his charm and wit and heart.

At fifteen, he was selling drugs on the corners of Fayette Street, but that doesn’t begin to explain who he was.  For the boys of Franklin Square — too many of them at any rate — slinging was little more than an adolescent adventure, an inevitable rite of passage.  And whatever sinister vision you might conjure of a street corner drug trafficker, try to remember that a fifteen-year-old slinger is, well, fifteen years old.

He was funny.  He could step back from himself and mock his own stances — “hard work,” he would say when I would catch him on a drug corner, “hard work being a black man in America.”  And then he would catch my eye and laugh knowingly at his presumption.  His imitations of white-authority voices — social workers, police officers, juvenile masters, teachers, reporters — were never less than pinpoint, playful savagery.  The price of being a white man on Fayette Street and getting to know DeAndre McCullough was to have your from-the-other-America pontifications pulled and scalpeled apart by a manchild with an uncanny ear for hypocrisy and cant.

He could be generous, and loyal. I remember him rushing out before Christmas to spend his corner money on gifts for his brother, nieces and nephews — knowing that his mother wasn’t going to get it done that year. I remember the moments of quiet affection he demonstrated when his mother was at her lowest ebb, telling her gently that she was better than this, that she could rise again. And, too, I remember his stoic, certain forgiveness of his father, who moved wraith-like around those same corners, lost in an addiction he could never defeat.

“I really feel like he’s at peace now,” DeAndre said after Gary’s funeral, explaining that his father was too gentle for the corners, too delicate a soul to be out there along Fayette Street. His father was never going to be what he was. Not ever again.  DeAndre said this with no malice, in a voice that was as loving as any words I ever heard him speak.

At first, he was content with the book we wrote about his world.  By the time “The Corner” was published it was something of an epitaph for people who were already casualties.  Not just DeAndre’s father, but Boo, Bread, Fat Curt, his cousin Dinky, Miss Ella from the rec center.  The book was an argument that these lives were not without meaning, that they, too, were complete human beings in the balance.  He liked that someone — anyone — thought the people of Fayette Street mattered.

In time, though, he confessed to hating the last line of the narrative, the one in which he is defined as a street dealer and addict at the moment after taking his first adult charge in a raid on a stash house on South Gilmor Street.  There was a burden in that, and he grew tired of its weight.

“That isn’t the end of the story,” he complained to me years later.  “You don’t know that the story ends that way.”

I readily conceded that he was correct, that the story was ongoing and that a new ending could and would be fashioned if he provided such.  By then, his mother had cleaned herself up, moved the family to the county, doing her damnedest to shepherd his young brother, and all of his nieces and nephews to adulthood, to gainful employment or college admissions.  The mother of DeAndre’s son had a master’s degree, in fact, and was thrice-promoted at the downtown hospital where she made a career. Even Blue, whose childhood home was the shooting gallery, had more than a decade clean and was spending what remained of his days counseling others out of addiction.

“If you give me another ending, Dre. I’ll write it. I promise. In a new edition, in a magazine article, anywhere I can. I’ll write that fucking story so hard.”

“Wait on it then. You gonna see.”

He went to work for the television shows, time and again lasting only as long as a paycheck or two.  He enjoyed acting, and showed some poise, but the jobs that offered the chance at a real career — the behind-the-camera production work, the path to union wages and benefits — those couldn’t hold him.  Several months ago, desperate to get out of Baltimore and to walk away from his ever-more exhausting addictions, he asked for one more chance.   He would get clean.  He would do what needed doing.  And so, we rented him an apartment in New Orleans and a gave him a position with the security crew for Treme.  His sobriety lasted until the first payday, and by Thanksgiving, ever more angry at himself and depressed, he asked me for a ticket back to Baltimore.  New Orleans wasn’t working; there were corners here, too, and he was lonely.  His plan, he said, was to see if he could get his job back at Mountain Manor.

It was there that DeAndre found some time to shine.  He worked as a peer counselor for court-ordered juveniles in the Mountain Manor residences.   He knew those kids, and he knew the street, and so, he actually had the skill set to bring some truth into the room.  He lasted two years — longer than any other gig in his life — before he again faltered.

I saw him on Christmas. We embraced. New Orleans went unmentioned.

On his birthday in May, I got a text:  “Hey, Dave.  Wassup.  I’m 35 today.  Never thought I’d make it.  How ’bout that?”

I texted him back: “Happy Birthday, Dre.”

By then, I knew he was again struggling, unable to outrun the demons.  A couple weeks ago, there was a photograph on the Baltimore Police Department’s webpage: An unidentified young man photographed during the robbery of a Pratt Street pharmacy. He claimed to have a gun, but offered only a note. He wanted not money, but drugs, and he left with pills. The photo was DeAndre.  Hollow-eyed, dusty — but, clearly, DeAndre.

Fran was horrified. This crossed a line in a way that was genuinely unlike her oldest son. He had lived his life doing great damage to himself, obliterating the bright-eyed manchild one dose at a time. In truth, I never saw a drug addict so unhappy to be high. When DeAndre was chasing, he was miserable and angry and ashamed, with every better angel of his nature buried beneath an ash-heap of resentment and self-loathing. When he sobered, you knew it immediately; DeAndre emerged, playful and self-aware and once again open to the world and other people. And always, in the past, the damage had been confined to himself and those who loved him.

This was new and ugly. Fran confronted him, telling him he needed to turn himself in to police, that he had gone too far, that he had truly lost himself this time. DeAndre pleaded for the chance to get clean first, to sober up before surrendering and going to City Jail. He did not want to detox in pretrial detention; he couldn’t stomach the thought of being sick in those spartan, unforgiving surroundings.  Once sober, he would surrender, and he asked his mother to ask me if I would go with him to court.  Ask him yourself, Fran told him.  Can’t, he told her.  I’m ashamed.

I told her to tell DeAndre that I would, of course, stand with him in court, but only if he surrendered himself. I told myself that even now, the end of the story hasn’t yet been written. Maybe this was a true bottom. Maybe some prison time could pull him from the spiral; nothing else seemed to work, after all.

Fran relented, drove him to Tuerk House, where he cleaned up for the last time and then discharged himself. He did not immediately surrender. Instead, a few days later, he took more pills until he fell over dead in a house in Woodlawn. This morning, when the police came to the county looking for him with a warrant, they learned that they were a day late, that DeAndre McCullough was beyond their powers of arrest.

If I close my eyes, the fifteen year old comes to me. His laughter, his wit, his foolishness and ridiculous rationalization mixed in equal measure with his goodness and honesty. I can forgive the addict who came to dominate that young life. I can let go of all the frustration and exhaustion that came with twenty years of faithlessness and hurt. I see, in the end, a man who was in great, unending pain. And I want him to rest now.

In spite of everything, I will miss him badly. I know because I’ve been here before. With Dinky. And Curt. And Ella. And Gary — especially Gary McCullough, the wounded father who in some awful way was a pathfinder for his wounded son.  When you tell yourself you are going to write a story about real people, you say so in the abstract, without any real sense of the beings you haven’t yet met, without any measure of the real cost of addressing actual human realities.

Well then, amid all of the easy labels and stereotypes that will now certainly apply, let me offer only the following:  I once had the privilege to know a boy named DeAndre McCullough, who at the age of fifteen had led a life of considerable deprivation, but who nonetheless was the fine and fascinating measure of a human soul. Everything after, even the very book that we wrote about his world, today seems like useless and unimportant commentary.

Be free, Dre.

 

 

 

 

 

202 replies
« Older Comments
  1. chat234 says:

    Read the Corner and watched the series…..loved both. Recently I was in Baltimore so I took a ride to see the actual “corner” you wrote about. I was hoping that since it had been almost 20 years since you spent a year there that maybe things had improved but it didn’t appear that way. Just wondering if there has been any attempts to try and revive that area of the city. I could see potential for those row houses to be restored but was shocked to see such a vast area of what appeared to be abandoned and damaged properties. Do you ever return to see the area and do you keep in touch with anyone still living there?

    Reply
  2. Melba says:

    DeAndre’s poem has come true …
    the angels have set him free from the life of a ghetto child

    Hungry for knowledge but afraid to eat..

    Reply
  3. Katie Hellier says:

    What happened to the guy who went to sea? Forget his name now……

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Michael Ellerbee.

      I haven’t seen Mike in some time. You made me curious. I will ask around.

      Reply
      • Katie Hellier says:

        Thankyou I read the book a while back and it touched me and moved me to tears in places. Also read Homicide which was awesome. Poor DeAndre, I am now going to find the Corner on DVD.

        Reply
  4. Emmet Curran says:

    Thank you David, I only heard about this there now, it’s so sad.
    Thanks for bringing me their stories.

    Reply
  5. runningawayfrombmore says:

    Dear Mr Simon

    My name is Meghan Im 25 and from Baltimore. I have watch the series over and over a 1000 times… I see so much of myself and family members on this this story. I want to write a book about my life story and hope to get it published and be a voice to young people like myself stuck in this “lost generation”. I wish I could tell you the half of my story but don’t want to ruin it. I know I will never get the opportunityt to work with you but I hope one day I will get the same opportunity as DeAndre. You are such a awesome man as well.as your team.. May God bless you and the rest of the Wire and Corner family….. Especially you Ms. Fran!!!!

    Reply
  6. Ben Merliss says:

    How about R.C.? Is he still around?

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      No. Passed last year.

      Reply
      • Ben Merliss says:

        That’s terrible. Having read the 2009 afterword to the U.K. edition of “The Corner,” I had to wonder whether or not he would turn out alright in the end. I am sorry (though not especially surprised I guess) that he too met a tragic end. Along with Gary and De’Andre (and Ella and Fran too I should add) I found him to be among the most engaging figures in the whole book. It must be such a sad feeling to know how many people in your life you have seen succumb to their personal demons. I don’t know what it’s like to lose so many people you learn to care about like that, but I feel for you.

        Keep on with the good work you’re doing Mr. Simon. You set a good example for many. And good luck with that Pogues musical. I’m a Pogues fan myself so I’m looking forward to how it will turn out.

        Reply
      • Señor Azul says:

        What happened?

        Is Dontae still with us?

        Thank you

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Dontae was doing pretty well last I saw him. He was out of prison, and working a straight job as a forklift operator. He seemed strong.

          Reply
  7. Chris says:

    David you are truly an amazing person to take the chance and courage to delve in the lives these people face. I’ve seen The Wire and The Corner, you really know how to stay dedicated to these issues in Urban America that are rarely taken noticed of. You tell it like it is, you are a true inspiration.

    Reply
  8. nikiva dionne says:

    I’m in tears as I type this. I’m a Baltimore Native who was to young to watch The Corner when it aired and have found it, only today as I research for an audition I have this coming week. Researching a life I knew at a very close distance. Drugs, was always what happened ‘around the corner’ from me. Raised in a single parent home my mom’s efforts seemed effortless in keeping drugs out of our home. I knew dealers, I knew addicts, I knew the demoralizing struggle that friends faced and I also knew I HAD TO LEAVE. I left Baltimore at 18 for school and could never understand why it seemed like my mother was pushing me back on the Greyhound bus on sunday to leave HOME. She later admitted that she ‘worried more about me when I was home, then when I was away at school’ . I was immediately intimidated when I received an audition for a drug addicted parent but knew I had to do it. I’m not sure what my assignment is in this moment but i know i have an obligation to my hometown. An obligation to say at some pt if nothing else, It’s sad when you find the best research for something so hellacious, in your own hometown. There are tons of ‘EXCEPTIONS’ tons of kids I know that don’t want to be in the drug game, that have fought to withstand it and with lil to no options find themselves, if not in it, sitting on the steps in the midst of it. I hate how Deandre and Gary’s story ended and I pray my life becomes a testament for what CAN happen as a product of Baltimore. Thank you for your ‘service’ to his story. “The Proof is in the Sacrifice” Nikiva Dionne

    Reply
  9. Furface says:

    David

    I know you have heard all this before but I cannot help but to comment.

    I actually really watch TV (too busy with other stuff!) but a friend told me to watch the corner when it was on in 2000. I was blown away.

    Now, I am an executive at a large Fortune 500 company and my work takes me to Baltimore regularly. I was in a cab on the way to Penn Station and was on Fayette (only a couple miles from Mount Street) and remembered ‘The Corner’ and have rediscovered the series all over again (now, unlike 2000, I can carry it around on my Ipad).

    Now, watching it 13 years later, I am again simply astonished at the level of excellence in your work on The Corner. Some things that stand out to me
    – The casting and acting were incredible. I really believed the CMB crew was that tight (and not just actors), I really felt the manipulative nature of Ronnie Boyce, I really felt the snake sneaking up on Gary. It felt like a one in a million combination of actors, all in the zone at the top of their game undoubtedly in large part due to the direction and production
    – The subtleties of how the story was told were excellent. The narration, Charles Dutton conversations with the characters, etc. Also the relationship between Fran and Gary- such a fine balance between ambivalence and still lingering tenderness.
    – The flashbacks- the vibrant colors really takes one back in time

    The Corner is a once in a generation piece of work in terms of storytelling, acting and direction. Thank you for this magnificent achievement.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Very kind, thanks. Great credit to the real people who let us into their lives to tell that story. We tried to be fair with it.

      Reply
  10. Sapphire says:

    It’s funny because a lot of people think that there is no were else in the world with a corner, as I watched this film being played out about these very real people it took every thing in me to hold it together; as I wished that all of the characters would be okay! As I watched my heart sunk for de’andre as I could see the pain with in his eyes. I sincerely hope both he and his father are at peace!! And they are able to form the bond; up in the kingdom of heaven the that once 15 year old boy so desperately craved. It’s funny because you never really know how something is going to touch you until your alone, I often shead a tear when I think of that young man and his friends that never made it to 35 years of age as he did. I hope the mother’s of his children never allow them to forget him, and remind the that he was like so many of us a victim of not only his upbringing but his environment too! My De’andre for ever RIP, and he will be someone that is remember to me.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Corner says:

    […] vrai DeAndre est mort cet été, à 35 ans, d’une overdose. David Simon en parle sur son blog. Son père Gary était mort durant l’écriture de The Corner. Car c’est aussi ça, la […]

  2. [...] can be seen in The Wire and The Corner (and, to a lesser extent, Treme). In fact Simon recently posted on his blog about the death of DeAndre McCullough, one of the subjects of The Corner. It’s clear how much Simon cared for McCullough, not least [...]

  3. [...] David Simon statement after DeAndre’s deathhttp://davidsimon.com/deandre-mccullough-1977-2012/ [...]

  4. [...] témoigne le bouleversant hommage qu’il a rendu cet été à DeAndre McCullough, un des principaux personnages de The Corner, mort [...]

  5. [...] few weeks ago, I read an incredibly moving eulogy penned by David Simon. The eulogy was in honor of a young man named DeAndre McCullough who was a [...]

  6. [...] can be seen in The Wire and The Corner (and, to a lesser extent, Treme).  In fact Simon recently posted on his blog about the death of DeAndre McCullough, one of the subjects of The Corner. It’s clear how much Simon cared for McCullough, not least [...]

  7. [...] “He went to work for the television shows, time and again lasting only as long as a paycheck or two,” Mr. Simon wrote in a tribute online. [...]

  8. [...] I just read David Simon’s obituary for DeAndre McCullough (1977-2012). [...]

  9. [...] “He went to work for the television shows, time and again lasting only as long as a paycheck or two,” Mr. Simon wrote in a tribute online. [...]

  10. [...] Simon’s obituary for DeAndre McCullough, his writing partner who also played Brother Mouzone’s assitant Lamar on The [...]

  11. [...] DeAndre McCullough, who played Brother Mouzone’s assistant Lamar on The Wire, has died at the age of 35. David Simon posted a lengthy obituary, talking about how he got to know him, etc., and you should read it. -DavidSimon [...]

  12. [...] David Simon, the writer/creator of The Wire, knew McCullough from back when Andre was a dealer on Fayette Street and Simon was doing research for a book called The Corner.  They had remained friends for the past 20 years.  Simon wrote a moving obit to his friend. [...]

  13. [...] David Simon: To remember him as we met him, twenty years ago, is to know everything that was lost, everything that never happened to a boy who could surprise you with his charm and wit and heart. This entry was posted in General by ben. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  14. [...] Simon has penned a touching obit for DeAndre McCullough, who just died of a drug overdose. When McCullough was 15 [...]

  15. [...] Of A Soul Posted at 1:30 on August 9, 2012 by Andrew Sullivan by Zoë Pollock David Simon has penned a touching obit for DeAndre McCullough, who just died of a drug overdose. When McCullough was 15 [...]

  16. [...] had to share this post that I saw on my Google Plus [...]

  17. [...] police had arrest warrants for McCullough's alleged involvement in two armed robberies. Simon remembered him: "I see, in the end, a man who was in great, unending pain. And I want him to rest now." [...]

  18. [...] Edited to add: I couldn’t pull this up before, but David Simon has a nice post on his blog. [...]

  19. [...] then I saw David Simon’s eulogy for Deandre, the central character from “The Corner“. Here’s the last [...]

  20. [...] any measure of the real cost of addressing actual human realities.” – David Simon, eulogizing. Like this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  21. [...] McCullough—the subject of The Corner—was found dead of a drug overdose. David Simon wrote up an obit that’s worth checking out. It is a sad, if ultimately unsurprising, end to the story. Figured [...]

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