From prison to performing: A French ex-gangster tells all

From prison to performing: A French ex-gangster tells all

PARIS, Feb 11 — He spent three decades as a gangster, with 70 hold-ups to his name that earned him 21 years behind bars, but now Frank Henry has a new career: treading the boards in Paris, declaring he is neither proud nor ashamed of his past.

Nicknamed “Frankus l’armurier” (“Frankus the gunsmith”), Henry was a career criminal who says he bagged some €20 million (RM104 million) from his exploits.

He still looks the part, with his shaved head and piercing blue eyes, reminiscent of golden age cinema star Jean Gabin, France’s answer to Humphrey Bogart.

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His one-man show at La Nouvelle Eve theatre in Paris offers an unvarnished account of his heists — robbing banks and casinos across France — and the heavy price he paid for them.

“Gangsters have always fascinated people — authors, playwrights, directors, audiences,” Henry told AFP.

“But I want to break the romanticism around gangsters. There is nothing glamorous about thugs,” he said.

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The show attracts all types — Henry said he recognised some police investigators in the audience one night.

“That life is not fun. These bandits embrace each other at noon and shoot each other in the evening… The leading cause of death for gangsters is not the cops — it’s the gangsters who kill each other.”

‘What a break!’

It was during a spell in prison in the 1990s, where he studied music and writing, that Henry discovered he had skills that might offer him a way out of the underworld.

“I didn’t know I could write. What a break!” he said.

Henry ended up publishing novels and writing for some of the biggest cop dramas on French TV, including Engrenages (known as Spiral in English) and Braquo.

He even directed his own film after he was released — 2011’s De Force starring Isabelle Adjani and Eric Cantona.

But the pull of the outlaw life was still too strong, and Henry was back in court in 2014, convicted of robbing currency exchanges and lorries carrying computer equipment.

That was the turning point.

“For the first time, I felt like I’ve lived the wrong life. All I’ve done is lie to people. My life has been nothing but anger and blood,” he said.

And he thought of his young son: “I didn’t want to pass on this delinquent legacy to my kid.”

Released in 2018, he insists he is now clean.

He also insists he has “no blood on his hands”, though he accepts that he may have permanently traumatised people along the way.

Henry has little time for former associates who want to reminisce about their adventures.

“I tell all my old mates the same thing — stop talking about it. What we did wasn’t good.

“I’m not proud, I’m not ashamed, because I’ve paid my debt to society.

“But to a youngster who might be tempted by the gangster life, I say there is no such thing as a worthy thug,” he added.

“He will bring misfortune on himself and the people who love him.” — ETX Studio

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