The Crazy-True Story That American Made Is About To Expose

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Warning: If you consider history to be a spoiler, then this article has it.
Our lives are incredibly interesting to us, we who are living them. But if we're going to be honest with ourselves, most of our lives probably couldn’t be adapted into blockbusting action movies involving multinational spying schemes. Looking back, it seemed that Barry Seal lived his life so that, one day, it could be adapted into a film. That’s just how wild it was.
“I don’t agree with what he was doing, but you can’t help but be utterly fascinated by it,” Tom Cruise told People of Barry Seal, the character he’s playing in the movie American Made, out September 29. It’s hard not to be fascinated by a man who was an airplane pilot, a drug runner working for the Medellin Cartel, and an informant working for the DEA.
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In 1991, Seal was played by Dennis Hopper in a TV movie called Doublecrossed. He appeared in Season 1, Episode 4 of Narcos. But no work made about Seal reaches the scale of American Made.
Get ready to be fascinated by his story.
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Seal began flying planes when he was 15.

The son of a candy wholesaler, Barry Seal was born Adler Berryman “Barry” Seal in 1939 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In his book about Seal's life, Smuggler's End: The Life and Death of. Barry Seal, Del Hahn describes how Seal took his first solo flight at 15 after an eight-hour lesson, and got a pilot’s license at 16. Ever the entrepreneur, Seal started an advertising business and flew ads from his airplane.

Strangely enough, Seal met Lee Harvey Oswald — the man who’d go on to assassinate President John F. Kennedy — while at training for the Civil Air Patrol in Baton Rouge.
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Seal wasn't always a drug smuggler.

Seal quickly put his pilot license to good use. In 1961, he enlisted in the Louisiana Army National Guard, where he served for the next six years. Seal specialized as a radio telephone operator, a skillset which came in handy during his next career as a drug operator.

In 1967, Seal, having left the army, started working as a pilot for Trans World Airlines. Yet he was fired from TWA in 1972 after he was caught in Mexico with explosives that were supposedly on their way to anti-Castro Cubans.

According to legend (and there are a lot of legends about Seal’s involvement with the CIA), the explosives' buyer had been a U.S. federal agent. After this trial, people thought Seal was a CIA operative. As Hahn states in his book, there is no evidence to support claims of Seal working for the CIA.
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How’d he get involved with the Medellin Cartel?

After he lost his job, Seal needed money, especially to support his child support payments. What’s a guy with flying skills to do? Work with Colombian cartels to smuggle drugs into the country, of course.

According to his third wife, Deborah, he began smuggling drugs in 1975. His partnership with the Medellin cartel kicked off in the ‘80s, when he moved his base from Louisiana to a small town, Mena, in western Arkansas. Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas at the time.

Seal — nickname “El Gordo” — made millions bringing about $3 billion to $5 billion worth of drugs into the US.
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Seal was arrested in 1983, and began working with the U.S. government.

Seal’s good luck streak officially ended in Fort Lauderdale in 1983 when customs officers caught him trying to smuggle quaaludes into the country. Seal admitted his crimes — by then he’d taken over 100 plane-loads of cocaine across the border. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Seal figured out how to reduce his jail time. No one knew the drug trade like he did. He flew down to D.C. and offered his services to Vice President Bush’s task force on the drug war. And that’s how Seal started working with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
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Seal’s cover was blown after a mission.

Seal supposedly had proof that the Medellin Cartel was working with the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua. If Seal provided proof that the Sandinistas, who supported the Cuban regime, were collaborating with the drug cartels, Reagan would be justified in his support for the Contras, even though they used violent tactics to fight the Sandinistas.

So, Seal flew his plane over Nicaragua, and took photos of the cartel loading drugs onto a plane alongside Sandinista soldiers. Whether or not the actual government officials sanctioned this trade isn’t known, but newspapers ran with the photos anyway.

An front-page article in The Washington Times about Seal’s mission outed him as a federal agent. Oh no.
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Seal was lost in the wilderness of Louisiana.

Seal decided to forgo government protection. As former FBI agent Del Hahn, who wrote a book about Seal, told Vice, “Seal thought he was smarter and cleverer than the Ochoas,” another prominent Colombian drug cartel (the central characters of Season 3 of Narcos, in fact). He wasn't.

On February 19, 1986, Seal was killed outside of a Salvation Army in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he was staying. Three Colombian assassins were arrested at the airport, supposedly sent by the Ochoas. They were all sentenced to life in prison.
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Some of Seal’s family isn’t happy about the movie.

Some of Seal’s family members are suing Universal Studios for American Made. Lisa Seal Frigon, Seal’s daughter with his first wife, Barbara, claims that she’s the legal executor of Seal’s estate. Universal had obtained Seal’s life rights from Seal’s third wife, Debbie, and their three children — not from Lisa.

The suit also claims factual innacuracies in the script. In the movie, Seal has three children, not five, as he had in real life. The film also suggests that he was an alcoholic.
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