The Rise and Fall of George Jung: The Real-life Subject of 'Blow'

By: Desiree Bowie  | 
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The real story of the "Blow" protagonist has as many twists and turns as the movie version. posteriori / Getty Images

The life story of George Jung reads like a high-stakes thriller, tracing the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of one of the most infamous drug smugglers in the history of the United States. Born into a modest family, Jung's early exposure to the world of narcotics set the stage for what would become a legendary career in the drug trade.

At the heart of the cocaine boom in the 1970s and 1980s, Jung became a pivotal figure, establishing a formidable network that connected Colombian cartels with the insatiable American market.


However, Jung's empire was built on a foundation of risk and illegality, leading to his eventual capture. His life serves as a cautionary tale of ambition, greed and the elusive American dream.

Early Years

George Jacob Jung was born on August 6, 1942, in Boston, Massachusetts, and was raised in Weymouth, Massachusetts. His father, Frederick, was a small business owner, running a struggling business, which strained the family financially.

This aspect of his early life, particularly witnessing his family's economic difficulties, is said to have had a significant impact on Jung's ambitions and his later decisions to pursue wealth through illicit means.


An Education

Jung was known to be a bright but restless student. He attended Weymouth High School, where he showed potential but was often distracted and involved in minor rebellious activities. Despite his lack of focus on academics, Jung was a popular student, known for his charismatic personality and ability to connect with people — traits that would later play a significant role in his career as a drug trafficker.

After high school, he enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi. Jung's foray into narcotics began not out of a grand scheme but from the opportunistic selling of marijuana to his college peers.

His entrepreneurial spirit quickly recognized the lucrative potential lying in the vast discrepancy between the costs of procuring marijuana in California and its selling price on the East Coast.

Marijuana Trafficking

Jung moved to Manhattan Beach, California, in the late 1960s after dropping out of the University of Southern Mississippi. It was during this period that he fully immersed himself in the drug culture and began his career in drug trafficking.

His operation quickly expanded from distributing to friends in California to transporting larger quantities in motor homes to the Northeast, particularly Amherst. By 1968, he had capitalized on the significant price difference.

"We used to take 600 to 800 pounds of pot at the time in these single-engine planes into the United States," Jung told PBS in an interview. "And we were basically getting it for $20 a kilo down there and selling it anywhere between $300 to 350 in the United States."

Seeking to maximize profits, Jung ventured into Mexico, targeting Puerto Vallarta to source marijuana directly. Despite initial setbacks due to language barriers and unfamiliar territory, a fortuitous meeting with an American woman led him to the son of a Mexican general, facilitating his plan to fly marijuana into the U.S.

The operation's logistics involved loading marijuana at a secluded spot near Puerto Vallarta called Point Damia, with no road access, making it an ideal clandestine loading point. Jung's first smuggling flight was fraught with challenges, including his inexperience as a pilot and a near-disastrous deviation over the Pacific. (Turns out it's sometimes worth it to hire professional pilots.)

The intended destination for these smuggling flights was near Palm Springs, California, where they used dry lake beds as makeshift landing strips. This daring approach marked a significant escalation in Jung's drug trafficking career, setting the stage for his eventual involvement in the cocaine trade.


A Life-changing Meeting in Prison

Jung's first significant legal trouble for drug smuggling occurred in 1974 when he was arrested in Chicago with 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of marijuana in his trunk. He was delivering the load to a man with ties to the heroin trade. Jung allegedly had no idea about that connection.

"Strange thing, when they arrested me for the pot, the federal agents, they said, "We're sorry, we really don't want to bust pot people," Jung later said. "But this is tied into a heroin operation and we have to arrest you."


Jung was sent to Danbury Prison, which he described as a distinctive environment. The inmate population primarily consisted of white-collar criminals and a few significant smugglers. There, he met Carlos Lehder, a fellow inmate with connections to the Medellín Cartel in Colombia.

As their acquaintance grew, Lehder introduced Jung to the cocaine business, highlighting the significant profit margin by comparing the selling price in the United States to the cost in Colombia. This conversation ignited Jung's interest in cocaine smuggling.

“Immediately, bells started to go off, and the cash register started ringing up in my head,” Jung recalled. “It was like a match made in heaven.”

Together, they conceived a plan that would exploit Jung's smuggling routes for cocaine distribution, with Lehder providing the connections to Colombian cocaine sources.


Pablo Escobar Enters the Picture

After their release, it was time to meet the big boss. Jung's introduction to Pablo Escobar — the notorious Colombian drug lord — took place at Escobar's ranch in Colombia, facilitated by Lehder. At the time, the drug lord was rapidly gaining power and influence as a leader of the Medellín Cartel and looking for ways to expand his business.

Often described as a hub for the cartel's operations, the Hacienda Napoles ranch served as a neutral ground for such meetings. Here, Jung learned about the scale and organization of Escobar's operation. This meeting was crucial for establishing the direct link between Colombian cocaine production and the US market, leading to the cocaine boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s.


Jung laid out the innovative smuggling method they devised in prison, which involved using commercial airlines to transport cocaine from Colombia to the United States. This method was marked by the use of Samsonite suitcases, which they would fill with cocaine, showcasing Jung's ingenuity in adapting to the challenges of smuggling heavier and more valuable cargo.

Jung's logistical expertise and smuggling routes, combined with Escobar's vast supply of cocaine, made their operation one of the most lucrative in the history of drug trafficking.

"Basically, I was no different than a rock star or a movie star. I was a coke star. At that time, I really didn't know who I was, to be honest with you. I was snorting a lot of cocaine, and I had lost myself to a great degree."

This operation, expertly transferring cocaine, made both Jung and Escobar extremely rich and solidified Escobar's position as a dominant figure in the global drug trade.

However, the success of their partnership eventually led to its downfall. The scale and visibility of their operation attracted intense scrutiny from law enforcement agencies in the United States and internationally. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other agencies intensified their efforts to dismantle the Medellín Cartel's network, leading to increased risks for everyone involved.


The Fall of Boston George

Two decades after his arrest for marijuana trafficking, Jung, who went by the nicknames Boston George and El Americano, was captured by authorities in 1994.

The circumstances leading to his arrest involved a large-scale operation where Jung was caught with a significant quantity of cocaine. He was arrested in Topeka, Kansas, with 1,754 pounds (796 kilograms) of cocaine, which was a substantial amount indicating a major smuggling operation.


After his arrest, Jung pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy, which reflects the breadth of his involvement in organized drug trafficking. His cooperation with authorities, particularly his testimony against his former partner Lehder, reduced his sentence from 60 years to about 20 years.


The 2001 biographical film "Blow," starring Johnny Depp and directed by Ted Demme, closely mirrors the real-life events of Jung's career in drug trafficking — with some dramatic embellishments typical of biopics.

The film is based on Bruce Porter's 1993 book "Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All," which follows Jung's journey from a small-time marijuana smuggler to a major player in the cocaine trade in partnership with the Medellín Cartel, led by Pablo Escobar.


The film captures the smuggler's rise and fall, emphasizing his criminal endeavors and the personal and emotional consequences of his life choices, particularly the strained relationship with his daughter.

The depiction of Jung's arrest at his birthday party, as shown in the film, is a dramatized version of events. In reality, Jung's criminal career was marked by several arrests and prison sentences, culminating in his final arrest in '94 at his home on Nauset Beach near Eastham, Massachusetts.


The Post-prison Years

Jung was released from prison on June 2, 2014, after serving nearly 20 years of his sentence. A combination of good behavior and his participation in a substance abuse program contributed to a reduction in his sentence.

He was, however, jailed for violating his probation but was transferred to a halfway house the following year.


After his release, Jung sought to lead a relatively low-profile life, although he did engage in some public activities. He gave several interviews in which he reflected on his life, his involvement in drug trafficking and the consequences of his actions. He also became active on social media, sharing his thoughts and experiences with a broader audience.

In addition to these activities, Jung worked on projects related to his life story, including collaborating on writing and public speaking engagements. He aimed to share his experiences to caution others about the dangers and consequences of drug trafficking and substance abuse.

Jung's life after prison was marked by efforts to reconnect with his family, particularly his daughter Kristina Sunshine Jung. Their relationship had been strained due to Jung's criminal activities and long periods of incarceration, themes that were prominently featured in the movie "Blow."

Despite his efforts to rebuild his life, Jung's past continued to cast a long shadow, and he faced the challenges of adjusting to life outside prison after spending decades involved in the criminal underworld and behind bars.

George Jung died on May 5, 2021, at the age of 78. While initial reports did not specify the exact cause of his death, it was later reported that he died from liver and kidney failure at his home in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.