Denise Francine ‘Fran’ Boyd Andrews, a drug counselor whose battle with addiction inspired a book and HBO miniseries, dies
Denise Francine “Fran” Boyd Andrews, whose desperate, determined, despairing — and ultimately triumphant — battle with drug addiction was chronicled in the Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries “The Corner” died Tuesday in her Parkville home after a brief illness. She was 65.
The cause of her death is unknown.
Mrs. Andrews’ life took her from the shooting galleries and flophouses of Baltimore’s Franklin Square neighborhood to a bed in a rehabilitation facility and ultimately, the Hollywood red carpet.
Her first husband died from a drug overdose. Her 2007 wedding to her second husband, Donnie Andrews, who inspired the character of Omar Little on the HBO series, “The Wire,” was chronicled on the front page of the New York Times. The couple later spoke at Harvard University.
“Don’t let nobody tell you what you can’t do,” Mrs. Andrews said often. “You can turn your life around.”
Even after she’d accomplished so much and helped lift up many members of her family, Mrs. Andrews’ life continued to be marred by tragedy. In 2012, she lost her eldest son to a drug overdose and her second husband to a fatal tear in his artery.
But Mrs. Andrews never stopped fighting. She worried over and cared for and tried to find resources for the clients she counseled at the Bon Secours Health System, whether she was on the clock or not. She refused to lose.
Despite his grief, Stanley Boyd couldn’t help laughing when he talked about the woman he called “my big little sister.” Though Stanley Boyd was four years older than Fran, he said he looked up to her.
“She could do anything,” her brother said. “Despite all the trials she had in her life, she affected so many people.”
Mrs. Andrews was born October 15, 1956, the fourth of six children to her father, a construction worker, and mother, a homemaker. After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School in 1974, she went to work for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company, a job she held for more than a decade.
In later accounts of her life, Mrs. Andrews told reporters that she took heroin for the first time at age 23 on the night of her older sister’s funeral. More than a dozen years later, when she met the writing team of David Simon and Ed Burns while sitting on the front steps of her rowhouse in 1993, she was firmly in the opiate’s grip.
“When you’re in the drug scene, all your worst nevers come true,” Mrs. Andrews told the New York Times in 2007, and then listed her lows: stealing from her family, trading sex for drugs and watching her eldest son De’Andre McCullough, begin dealing narcotics at age 15.
At the time, Simon was a Baltimore Sun reporter and Burns was a former homicide detective for the Baltimore Police Department. The pair spent three years chronicling the drug trade operating at West Fayette and Monroe Streets and its impact on one family: Fran Boyd (as she was known then), her estranged husband, Gary McCullough, and their son, De’Andre.
The result was their 1997 book, “The Corner: a Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighborhood,” which was later adapted into a six-part HBO miniseries called simply, “The Corner.”
But Mrs. Andrews had clawed her way out of her addiction even before the book was published, Simon wrote in an email, and had secured a job as a drug counselor.
Mrs. Andrews was still working with Bon Secours at the time of her death, having served in many capacities including street outreach, HIV education and outreach, overdose counseling and case management.
The Times article said that she found a champion in the man she would eventually marry ― Donnie Andrews, whom she met in the 1990s through Burns. At the time, Mr. Andrews was serving a life sentence in a federal penitentiary in Arizona for a 1986 double homicide. He had begun counseling drug addicts in prison and Burns thought he might be able to help his friend Fran Boyd.
Initially, she resisted. But Mr. Andrews called every day at 4 p.m. and soon, she began making sure she would be home to answer the phone. The couple married two years after Mr. Andrews was paroled in 2005.
“She just wanted better for everybody,” her son, De’Rodd Hearns, said. “She felt that if she could do it, that would prove to everybody else that they could do it, too.”
In 2000, Mrs. Andrews walked the red carpet with director Charles S. Dutton when “The Corner” picked up several Emmy Awards, including one for outstanding miniseries.
A Los Angeles reporter asked Mrs. Andrews who had designed her elegant evening gown.
Without missing a beat, she replied: “Mondawmin,” naming the West Baltimore mall.
Burns and Simon remained close to Mrs. Andrews, watching as she raised not only her own two sons, but four other family members. Mrs. Andrews became the custodial parent to her two nieces, Kenyatta and Ashley Bell and their brother, Byron Bell. She also informally adopted her grandson’s young mother, Tyreeka Freamon.
“If someone had told me in January or February of 1993 that Fran Boyd, of all of those struggling on Fayette Street, was the soul who was not only going to survive, but eventually thrive … I would have dismissed them as hopelessly naive,” Simon wrote in an email.
“She pulled that whole family — and many who were not blood relatives but who she considered family — up with her. It was astounding.”
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Despite losing her husband and eldest son, and despite ongoing health problems stemming from an old injury to her spinal cord, Hearns said his mother found ample opportunities for joy.
When she heard the Sugarhill Gang’s 1980 hit “Rapper’s Delight” on the radio, she would break into a goofy dance. Every Christmas Eve at midnight, Mrs. Andrews and her children would gather at her house. While the grandchildren slept, the grown-ups would exchange gifts and laugh and tell stories for hours.
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On May 1, Mrs. Andrews told Hearns that she was feeling under the weather. But he didn’t suspect that something was seriously wrong until he awoke two days later. When Hearns turned on his phone, he realized he hadn’t received his daily 5 a.m. text from his mother.
Hearns works as a firefighter, and the texts always said the same thing:
“Good morning, Son. I love you. Go save some lives.”
Visitation for Mrs. Andrews will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Wylie Funeral Home, 701 N. Mount St. A funeral service will be held at the funeral home at 9:30 a.m. Friday. Burial is private.
Survivors include Hearns of Parkville; an adopted daughter, Tyreeka Freamon, of Parkville; and two nieces and a nephew for whom Mrs. Andrews became the custodial parent: Kennyetta, Ashley and Byron Bell, all of Parkville. She is also survived by her oldest brother, Stanley Boyd, of Parkville and seven grandchildren.