Willie Lloyd: The ‘king of kings’

January 7th, 2009

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In our three seasons of “American Gangster,” we’ve done several stories about Chicago’s deeply- ingrained gang culture, but none has an ending as tragic as Willie Lloyd’s, the Vice Lords’ one-time “king of kings”. From the 1960s to the 1990s, Willie was the charismatic and cunning leader of this infamous West Side Chicago gang. The Vice Lord’s propensity for drug dealing, extortion and murder made them feared. Lloyd himself spent time in jail for the 1971 murder of an Iowa policeman. Upon release he became even more powerful and seemed to fear no man, whether rival gang leader or officer of the law.

While doing a stint in jail in the ’90s for gun possession, Willie underwent a transformation and, after his release in 2001, announced his retirement from gang life and became a spokesman for Cease Fire, an anti-gang crusade in Chicago., Bbut his change of heart did not go down well with old friends and foes. In 2003, he was shot multiple times on a Chicago street and ended up. As a result he is paralyzed from the neck down.

C.P. Mortensen, who has produced several of our finest “American Gangster” episodes, recalls the special challenge of putting this show together.

“The biggest difficulty with Willie is that we had complete access to him, but he didn’t have ‘access’  to himself,” says Mortensen. “The spinal injury and the drugs he must take to control his diabetes (and other complications we are not privy to) have made it hard for him to communicate with those around him.  After each question I had to wait long periods of time for him to answer.  Sometimes he got the answer out.  Sometimes he did not. That’s why we did the interview as a “two-shot” including his wife Willa, who served very nearly as an “interpreter” for Willie.  Some of the questions provoked Willie to the point where he was able to summon the strength to reply on his own.   The answer he gives at the end – his last sound bite in the show – was long in coming and very forceful when it arrived.  “Turn away,” he says. “Turn away from the gangs.”

Willie Lloyd’s saga is a tale of Chicago that is both violent and bitter, probably one of the roughest “American Gangster” tales to date.

Peace.

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