One of the Australian criminal underworld’s most notorious, violent, colourful and perversely popular figures, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, has died aged 58.
It wasn’t an attack by rival criminals, even the blood lost from ordering someone to hack off both his ears that did him in. In the end it was a terminal bout of liver cancer, a complication of hepatitis C he allegedly contracted from sharing razor blades in prison, that ended the life of a man determined to remain in the spotlight.
Chopper spent most of his life behind bars for a series of violent crimes, graduating from being the leader of the Surrey Road gang of brawlers, robbing drug dealers in the Prahran area in his early twenties, to igniting a prison war as the leader of the Overcoat Gang while in Pentridge Prison in the late 1970’s. He was a standover man, an enforcer, who had admitted to killing 19 people (although he told the New York Times earlier this year that it was more like “probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it.”). Despite this, he was never convicted of murder, and instead became an Australian cult anti-hero, thanks in part to Eric Bana‘s portrayal of him in the 2000 biographical movie Chopper which propelled Bana and director Andrew Dominik to international stardom.
Chopper’s life after prison has comprised of authoring some of Australia’s best-selling true(ish?) crime books, painting, public speaking, and even rapping, releasing the album Interview With A Madman in 2006.
Whether you saw him as a violent standover man or a charming yarn spinner, a heinous criminal or a court jester, Chopper was a storyteller to the end, making his last public appearance at sold-out spoken-word performance in Melbourne two weeks ago.
This statement from Chopper accompanied the press release announcing the live show: “Apart from Irish whiskey, good cigars, Pontiac motor cars, and a pistol grip baby .410 shotgun with solid load shells, what I love the most is kidnapping smartarse gangsters and taking their money. To the human filth I have bashed, belted, iron barred, axed, shot, stabbed, knee capped, set on fire and driven to their graves, I can only quote from the motto of the French Foreign Legion, ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’ … I REGRET NOTHING.”
Chopper is survived by his wife Margaret and his sons Roy and Charlie.