Obituary: James Fogle / Convict who wrote novel turned film 'Drugstore Cowboy'
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James Fogle, a thief and addict who committed real crimes and then turned them into fiction in his novel "Drugstore Cowboy," which became an acclaimed film, died Aug. 23 in the infirmary ward of the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, Wash.
He was 75.
The cause was malignant mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, the Snohomish County medical examiner's office said.
Mr. Fogle grew up in Olympia, Wash., stole his first car at age 12 and was serving time in a juvenile facility by the time he was a teenager. His mother told interviewers that she regretted not having intervened when his father beat him. He began writing early but was nearly 40 before his work caught the eye of someone who could promote it beyond prison walls.
Daniel Yost, a freelance writer who shared screenwriting credit on "Drugstore Cowboy" with the film's director, Gus Van Sant, said Thomas Gaddis, the author of "Birdman of Alcatraz," received an unsolicited novel in the mail in 1973 from an inmate serving time in Walla Walla, Wash.
Gaddis, who died in 1984, encouraged Mr. Yost to contact Mr. Fogle.
"He said, 'I got something in the mail, and I want you to read it,' " Mr. Yost, who had interviewed Gaddis for The Oregonian newspaper, recalled.
That first novel, never published, was called "Satan's Sandbox," and it was one of several written by Mr. Fogle on which Mr. Yost eventually based screenplays.
"Drugstore Cowboy," which starred Matt Dillon as the leader of an inept band of thieves and addicts who stole prescription drugs from pharmacies across the Northwest, was the only one made into a film, released in 1989.
The book was also Mr. Fogle's only published novel; it came out after the film received wide critical acclaim.
"All the dialogue was there," Mr. Yost said of the original manuscript. "The story was pretty complete."
James Fogle was born on Sept. 29, 1936, in rural Wisconsin.
He spent most of his life in jail or prison. When "Drugstore Cowboy" was released, a special screening was held for him and his fellow inmates at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Mr. Yost said Mr. Fogle made very little money on the book or the movie, and police records show that he stayed true to character long after his moment of fame. He had been free for three years when he was arrested in 2010 for stealing narcotics from a pharmacy in the Seattle suburbs.
He and another man locked employees in a storeroom after binding their hands with plastic ties. When officers stopped Mr. Fogle, he was hooded, wore a pink bandanna over his face and had a BB gun. He was holding trash cans filled with drugs in both hands.
"If you're a lawyer or a doctor and spent a lot of time learning what you do in school, you don't stop being a lawyer or doctor," Mr. Yost said Mr. Fogle told him late in life. "He said juvie hall was a school for learning to be a criminal."
First Published September 2, 2012 12:00 am