James Fogle, who wrote ‘Drugstore Cowboy,’ dies at 75

August 24, 2012

James Fogle, who wrote “Drugstore Cowboy,” an autobiographical crime novel that led to an acclaimed 1989 film starring Matt Dillon, died Aug. 23 at a prison in Monroe, Wash. He was 75.

Selena Davis, a state corrections spokeswoman, confirmed the death. A judge had sentenced Mr. Fogle to almost 16 years in prison for holding up a pharmacy in a Seattle suburb in 2010, the last in a string of crimes that put him behind bars for most of his adult life.

Mr. Fogle died of probable malignant mesothelioma, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office said.

Mr. Fogle had already spent much of his life in prison when he wrote “Drugstore Cowboy,” based on his experiences in a band of addicts who roamed the Pacific Northwest robbing pharmacies to feed their addictions. Filmmaker Gus Van Sant turned the unpublished novel into a film. The book came out in 1990.

James Fogle was born Sept. 29, 1936, in Elcho, Wis., the son of a steam-fitter welder. He had only a sixth-grade education but started writing his stories more than 40 years ago, the Seattle Times reported.


James Fogle is shown in court last year while waiting to be sentenced for what would be the last time. (Ken Lambert/KEN LAMBERT/THE SEATTLE TIMES)

He wrote his only published novel, “Drugstore Cowboy,” in six weeks while serving a 20-year prison term for a pharmacy robbery in southwest Washington. Van Sant and Mr. Fogle’s friend Daniel Yost wrote the screenplay.

“I have been involved with drugs and crime and prisons almost all of my life,” he told the reference work Contemporary Authors. “I began writing about these subjects in prison, mostly to keep from going crazy as the time passed. That is the only world I really know, and so that is what I write about. I am very interested in the political issues involved in my novels and try to show some of the ridiculousness of it all.”

— From news services
and staff reports

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