Irvine Welsh pays tribute to ‘great friend’ Howard Marks

Former drugs smuggler Howard Marks. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Former drugs smuggler Howard Marks. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire
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Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh has paid tribute to former drugs smuggler-turned-celebrity raconteur Howard Marks, describing him as a “great friend and a marvellous, unique human being”.

Marks, who has died at the age of 70, once stayed in a flat in the Grassmarket area and became good friends with Welsh. The two men went on to campaign for a reform of cannabis laws.

“He burned bright and spread a great light,” said Welsh.

Welshman Marks, known as Mr Nice, announced last year that he had inoperable bowel cancer. A statement issued on his Twitter profile confirmed that he passed away in the early hours of yesterday morning.

It said that Marks had “died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by his four loving children,” adding: “Goodnight Mr Nice.”

Marks first came to public attention during his trial at the Old Bailey in 1981, where he was charged with importing 15 tonnes of cannabis from the US into Scotland.

However, he was acquitted of the charge after the jury accepted his defence that he was working for the British Secret Service and the Mexican Secret Service.

After years living under as many 43 aliases, he was eventually caught by the American Drug Enforcement Agency in 1988.

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.

His release led to a new career as an author, speaker, political campaigner and musician. A regular performer at the Fringe, he once agreed to a contract at the Assembly Rooms which stipulated that he must not smoke cannabis while on stage.

Another friend and former colleague, James Brown, the former editor of Loaded magazine, where Mr Marks had a monthly column, described him as a “true modern-day folk hero” who had done “so many funny, shocking, illegal things”.

Mr Brown said: “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, Marks went to Oxford University where he earned a degree in nuclear physics and postgraduate qualifications in philosophy.

After his release from prison, he stood for parliament in four separate constituencies – Norwich South, Norwich North, Neath and Southampton Test – in the 1997 general election on the single issue of the legalisation of cannabis, catalysing the formation of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance.

A 2010 film about his life, based on his 1996 autobiography, Mr Nice, starred fellow Welshman Rhys Ifans.

newsen@edinburghnews.com