I was a junior reporter on this newspaper when the late Howard Marks was arrested at his Palma home in the summer of 1988. Marks was accused of being the world's biggest smuggler of cannabis. For a few days Palma was at the centre of a massive media storm. Marks, 70, who died over the weekend from bowel cancer, was a colourful character. He had many friends on the island and they all admitted that even though he had been arrested on charges of drug smuggling, he was exceptionally good company and some went even further by saying that he was a "good guy" or "Mr Nice", the title of his top-selling autobiography.
Even though I covered his arrest I never got to meet him but I did when he was released from jail in the United States seven years later. He returned to Majorca and the family home. His track record spoke for itself. Marks turned to cannabis trafficking in the 1970s after graduating from Oxford University with a degree in physics. After a series of multi-million pound deals and high-profile court cases, his career in drug smuggling finally came to an end in 1988. He was sentenced to 25 years in a high-security American prison but released on parole after seven years. I remember shaking his hand outside his Palma house and I recall saying "welcome home".
He gave the Bulletin a long and in-depth interview at our offices and I remember thinking that he was exceptionally good company, with an easy manner and a great brain. Despite his drug trafficking past I found myself agreeing with what his friends had told me seven years earlier. Now, that does not hide the fact that Marks was a convicted drugs smuggler and some would say that he was Mr. Evil rather than Mr. Nice and they probably have a point. But you couldn't help but like him really. After his release from prison I saw him around Palma on numerous occasions and he would always have time for a quick chat. He was that sort of guy. If he hadn't turned to drug smuggling I suspect that Marks would have been successful at any of the careers which he had chosen. In 1996 Marks published his autobiography, Mr. Nice, which sold over a million copies and was followed later by a film of the same name in which he was played by his friend and fellow Welshman Rhys Ifans. "Mr Nice was above all an adventure story," said his editor at Harvill Secker, Geoff Mulligan. “Around the time of publication a close friend of Howard said to me that people are going to think he’s made half of this up, but I know he left out half of it.”
In later life, Marks campaigned for the legalisation of cannabis and even stood for parliament in 1997 for the sole purpose of legalising the drug. A skilled raconteur, he toured a one-man show recounting his experiences on the wrong side of the law and in 2015 published a follow-up to his autobiography called Mr Smiley: My Last Pill and Testament.
He said when he first learned of his cancer last year that he had no regrets about his life. Some will say that Marks was a dirty rotten scoundrel for turning to the illicit drugs trade. But I will always remember him as a man who was great company, highly intelligent and, above all, a character. For me, he was more Mr. Nice than Mr. Evil.