‘Mr Nice’ Howard Marks dies of cancer aged 70

Former drug smuggler announced he had inoperable bowel cancer in 2015

Howard Marks has died age 70. Photograph: Ian West/PA Wire

Howard Marks has died age 70. Photograph: Ian West/PA Wire


Former British drug smuggler Howard Marks, who wrote about his exploits in an autobiography, Mr Nice, has died at the age of 70 after suffering from bowel cancer.

Marks, who learned of his condition last year, died in the early hours of Sunday at his home near Bridgend in Wales, according to a statement from his publisher Harvill Secker.

Marks turned to cannabis trafficking in the 1970s after graduating from Oxford University with a degree in nuclear physics.

After a series of multi-million pound deals and high-profile court cases, his career in drug smuggling finally came to an end in 1988 when he was caught after a raid on his house in Spain and extradited to the United States.

He was sentenced to 25 years at one of America’s toughest prisons — Terre Haute, Indiana — and was released on parole in 1995 after serving seven years.

In 1996 Marks published his autobiography, which sold over a million copies and was followed later by a film of the same name in which he was played by his friend and fellow Welshman Rhys Ifans.

Mr Nice was above all an adventure story,” said his editor at Harvill Secker, Geoff Mulligan.

“Around the time of publication a close friend of Howard said to me: ‘people are going to think he’s made half of this up’ but I know he left out half of it.”

In later life, Marks campaigned for the legalisation of cannabis and even stood for parliament in 1997 for the sole purpose of legalising the drug.

A skilled raconteur, he toured a one-man show recounting his experiences on the wrong side of the law and in 2015 published a follow-up to his autobiography called Mr Smiley: My Last Pill and Testament.

He said when he first learned of his cancer last year that he had no regrets about his life.

Friend and former colleague at Loaded magazine James Brown told the Guardian that Marks was a “true modern-day folk hero”, who had done “so many funny, shocking, illegal things”. Marks had a monthly column at the magazine for five years.

Brown, who hired Marks when he was the editor of Loaded, paid tribute to his friend, saying: “He stood for everything we loved. Mr Nice was a thrilling book. Howard is a bloody great example to us all.”

Born in 1945 in Kenfig Hill, a small Welsh coal-mining village near Bridgend, Howard Marks went to Oxford University where, in addition to his degree in physics, he earned post-graduate qualifications in philosophy.

He is survived by four children.

In an interview with the Observer in January 2015, Marks said he had come to terms with his illness. He said: “It’s impossible to regret any part of my life when I feel happy and I am happy now, so I don’t have any regrets and have not had any for a very long time.”

Reflecting on his career, he said: “Smuggling cannabis was a wonderful way of living – perpetual culture shock, absurd amounts of money, and the comforting knowledge of getting so many people stoned.”