Guy Fisher: Not Just Another Harlem Kingpin

December 3rd, 2008

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Guy Fisher was the first Black man to own Harlem’s Apollo Theater, a proud day in Black history. Except that Fisher brought that historic showcase for Black talent using money generated by sales of thousands of kilos of heroin. Fisher had been the protege of the legendary Nicky Barnes. Later Barnes’ testimony would send Fisher to prison for the rest of his life. Fisher is the third Harlem kingpin to appear on “American Gangster” and he’s just as compelling as Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas.

The show’s producer Diane Paragas was surprised at the duality of Fisher’s life.

“When we first heard that Florence Fisher, Guy’s sister, agreed to let us tell the official Guy Fisher story, we didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “All we knew was that he was the protege of Nicky Barnes and that he was the first Black owner of the Apollo.  At first
Florence and Guy’s associates who we interviewed did not even want to mention Nicky’s name and had obvious feelings of betrayal and contempt for the man that put their beloved Guy in prison.  They spoke easily about Guy’s accomplishments in prison, getting his PHD writing books, teaching classes and his gentlemanly compassionate demeanor. When we interviewed DEA agents and prosecutors, they painted a very different picture of a ruthless ambitious killer, whose charm and intellect allowed him to get rid of the powerful Nicky and take over his empire.

“As a producer, it was hard to tell which of these two sides was the real Guy Fisher.  The love that his friends, associates and family feel for him is real, and they speak of him as if he has reached some zen-like status in their eyes. In many ways, I found him to be a more interesting and complicated character than his counterpart Nicky Barnes because he appears to be a thinking man, a gentleman not a thug as one of his friends put it.  In the end, when we asked Guy about his feelings about Nicky, he said that he had made peace with it. The tragedy of the Guy Fisher story is that I believe that he really was trying to go legitimate when he purchased the Apollo.  I don’t know if he would have achieved it or his gangster life would have and probably should have caught up with him, but I was impressed that he managed to make a second life from behind bars and his life is testimony to the fact that you can still achieve and change after your sins.”

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