Washington DC’s ‘cocaine mayor’ dies

Marion Barry, the scandal-plagued former mayor of Washington DC, who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine before making a surprising return to office, has died aged 78.

Before his fall from grace, Barry had been one of the nation’s most promising black politicians. Years later, many Washingtonians would consider him a scoundrel but he remained a hero to many others in impoverished parts of the city, even as his continuing battles with substance abuse went public.

Barry, who was serving as a city councilman, was hospitalised briefly last week and collapsed hours after being released on Saturday night, media reports said. He died at the United Medical Centre in Washington, spokeswoman Natalie Williams said. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Barry served three terms from 1979 until 1991 when he went to prison for six months. He reclaimed the job in 1995. Gregarious and charismatic, he came to be known as Washington’s “mayor for life”, a label he said he disliked but still used in the title of his autobiography Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr.

Barry’s third term was sullied by open talk of womanising, drinking and drug use, making him an easy target for comedians and drawing media disdain. Several top aides were convicted of corruption. Barry responded to criticism with denials and claims that he was the victim of a racist media.

In his autobiography Barry said he was fuelled in those days by a “mix of power, attraction, alcohol, sex and drugs”.


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