Born: July 3, 1962
Syracuse, New York, USA
Born: July 16, 1939
Birthplace: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
Death: February 19, 1986, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA (assassinated by gunshot)
Born: September 28, 1983
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Born: abt 1951
Renamed Lucy in the movie
Born: May 17, 1984
Born: September 30, 1950
Birthplace: Medellín, Colombia
Born: September 13, 1974
Born: December 1, 1949
Birthplace: Rionegro, Colombia
Death: December 2, 1993, Medellín, Colombia (shot by Colombian National Police)
Yes. Like in the American Made movie, the real Barry Seal earned a living as a commercial airline pilot for several years. He was hired by Trans World Airlines (TWA) in 1964 and at age 26 became one of the youngest Captains operating a Boeing 707. He had already been flying planes for nearly half his life, earning his student pilot's license at age 15 and pilot's license at 16. Embracing his entrepreneurial spirit as a teenager, he started a small business flying ads from his airplane. In 1961, he joined the Louisiana Army National Guard and served with the 20th Special Forces Group for six years. -Daily Mail Online
No. Barry Seal was fired from TWA in 1974 for falsely citing medical leave when he was actually off trafficking weapons. He had been arrested in 1972 by the U.S. Customs Service for trying to fly 1,350 pounds of plastic explosives to anti-Castro Cubans via Mexico. -Smuggler's End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal
No. Fact-checking American Made revealed that Monty Schafer is a fictional character created to represent Barry Seal's contacts at the CIA. There is no real-life Monty.
Yes. However, her real name is Debbie, not Lucy. She is a brunette, not a blond like Sarah Wright's character in the movie. Barry met Debbie while he was on his way to a hearing after he was caught in 1972 trying to smuggle military explosives out of the country. The explosives were supposedly going to anti-Castro Cuban fighters. Debbie, who was 21 at the time, met Barry, 33, while working as a cashier at a restaurant. "He stopped in there and, just like that, he asked me out," Debbie told Daily Mail Online. "He would tell me all these wild stories about the missions he had flown. I was young and it was impressive." They married in 1974. Debbie became Barry's third wife. He had previously been married to Barbara Bottoms (m. 1963-1971) and Lynn Ross (m. 1971-1972).
The extent of Barry Seal's involvement with the CIA in the 1980s has provided fuel for speculation and conspiracy theories. As author Del Hahn states in his book about Barry Seal's life, Smuggler's End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal, there is no evidence to support claims that Barry Seal worked for the CIA. Hahn was part of the task force that pursued Seal in the 1980s. In his book, he uses case documents and first-person accounts to dispel this idea and other half-truths about Seal.
However, some still allege the opposite, that the government turned a blind eye to Seal's drug running in order to use him to deliver weapons to the Nicaraguan rebels. Basically, Seal would fly over the guns and smuggle back drugs on his return trip. It's certainly possible and it's what the movie proposes. Yet, it's also certainly possible that Seal had no involvement with the CIA in the early 1980s at all, given there is nothing to support the claim but rumors. In the least, his exploits with the CIA and agent Monty Schafer in the movie are largely fictional and based on speculation. In his research for the book, the only confirmed connection Hahn could make between the CIA and Barry Seal was in 1984, after Seal had started working as an informant for the DEA.
What is certain is that Barry Seal did work for Pablo Escobar and the Ochoas as a drug smuggler for the Medellín Cartel and single-handedly had one of the largest impacts on the cocaine epidemic in the U.S. in the early 1980s. Seal made an estimated $60 million off smuggling drugs into the country and became one of the richest people in America. Executing secret missions for the government in the movie might add a sort of patriotism and redeeming quality to his character, but in real life Barry Seal was a drug smuggler first and foremost. That aspect of who he was has never been disputed.
The movie proposes that Barry Seal's first foray into smuggling drugs happened in 1980 after he was kidnapped while refueling his plane in Colombia. In the film, his abductors take him to a secret airstrip in the Colombian jungle where three businessmen, including Pablo Escobar, make him an offer he can't pass up. Upset that he has lost his pension and healthcare at TWA, he embraces the idea of making $2,000 per kilo of cocaine smuggled into the United States. This doesn't add up with the American Made true story. According to The Independent, Barry's widow, Deborah Seal, says that he began smuggling drugs in 1975, first focusing mainly on marijuana. Seal's Drug Enforcement Administration file also supports this, noting that he was smuggling marijuana as early as 1976, then adding cocaine to his resume in 1978.
In the movie, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) starts working for the Medellín Cartel after they abduct him while he is refueling his plane and then make him an offer he can't refuse. In real life, his first encounter with the Medellín Cartel happened less dramatically. After being caught in Honduras with 40 kilograms of cocaine in 1979, Barry spent nine months in a Honduran jail. While there, he had a chance meeting with Jorge Ochoa's New Orleans business manager. The Ochoa Family, along with Pablo Escobar and others, were the founders of the Medellín Cartel. Still unknown at the time, the cartel would go on to make hundreds of millions from the explosion of cocaine use in the U.S. Barry Seal, who became known as "El Gordo" (The Fat Man), ended up being an integral part of that success. -Daily Mail Online
No. According to TIME, in real life, he had five children and was married three times. The real Barry Seal and his wife Debbie had three children (Aaron, Dean and Christina). Barry also had a daughter and a son not shown in the movie, Lisa and Alder, with his first wife Barbara Bottoms.
No. In the American Made movie, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) crash lands a plane in a suburban neighborhood in an effort to escape the DEA who ordered him to land. Barry emerges from the plane covered in cocaine. He hands wads of cash to a kid on a bike, telling the boy, "You never saw me." The memorable scene never happened in real life.
As a drug smuggler for Colombia's Medellín Cartel, Barry Seal earned as much as $500,000 per flight smuggling cocaine into the United States. By 1983, his earnings totaled $60 million, making him one of the wealthiest people in America. In total, he had illegally imported $3 to $5 billion worth of drugs and an estimated 56 tons of cocaine into the U.S., making over 100 flights. -Daily Mail Online
"Mena" refers to the small town in Arkansas where Barry Seal moved his operation, smuggling in drugs to a clandestine airfield under the nose of then-Governor Bill Clinton. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the movie's title was changed to put less emphasis on the Arkansas connection, including the possibility that Bill Clinton was aware of what was going on.
No. The scene was actually inspired by something that happened while director Doug Liman and Tom Cruise were training for the movie. "Tom did all his own flying in the movie," Liman told Vulture. "He put the airplane into a parabolic arc and pinned me against the ceiling, and right in that moment, I had this inspiration. ... Wouldn't it be fun if they were fooling around in a plane and the plane went into the same kind of parabolic arc and they got pinned against the ceiling?"
No. "You know, we're not making a biopic," said director Doug Liman. "Tom Cruise doesn't look like Barry Seal. His character is inspired by the stories we learned about Barry." The movie's loose interpretation of the truth is echoed in the trailer when a voice-over by Tom Cruise as Barry Seal tells us that only "some of this sh*t really happened." Liman has referred to the film as "a fun lie based on a true story" (TIME).
No. Fact-checking American Made immediately revealed that Tom Cruise looks nothing like the real Barry Seal, who weighed around 280lbs and was nicknamed "El Gordo" (The Fat Man) by his bosses. -Daily Mail Online
Yes. In an effort to reduce or altogether avoid his 10-year prison sentence, Seal first tried to make a deal with a U.S. attorney, volunteering to give up information on the Ochoa family, but the deal was rejected. He then was able to get a meeting with Vice President George H.W. Bush's anti-drug task force in hopes of convincing them of his value as an informant. They referred him to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA eventually took him up on his offer because of his knowledge and connections to the cartel. Seal became a federal informant in March 1984. His cooperation led to many convictions, as well as indictments against Pablo Escobar and Jorge Ochoa, two of the founding members of the Medellín Cartel. Ochoa was arrested in Spain on a U.S. warrant, but due to pressure from the cartel was never extradited to the U.S. -Court Documents (STATE of Louisiana v. Miguel VELEZ, Bernardo Vasquez, and Luis Carlos Quintero-Cruz)
Yes. Like in the American Made movie, Barry Seal was allowed to fly out of the country and return with illegal drugs that the feds made sure never reached their targets. Concurrently, they had to make sure not to raise the suspicions of the ruthless Colombian drug lords. Undercover cameras installed on Seal's plane captured photos on the tarmac of a Nicaraguan airport. Images like the one earlier on this page show Medellín Cartel boss Pablo Escobar with Sandinista government officials and soldiers, who were loading cocaine onto Seal's plane, nicknamed the Fat Lady. Other photos like the one below show Federico Vaughan (center, striped shirt), a man that Seal claimed was a top aide of Tomas Borge, the Sandinista Minister of the Interior.
The White House saw the pictures as proof of the communist Sandinista government's corruption and believed that the photos would help to convince the public of the need to support and arm the rebels (Contras) in Nicaragua. Later, after Seal's cover was suspiciously blown, President Reagan used the photo shown below in a 1986 television address to the nation. -The Independent
Yes. "One day Barry came in and said there was a contract on him - half a million dead, a million alive," says widow Debbie Seal. "He thought we had more time. I guess he also thought Colombians would stick out like a sore thumb in Louisiana and they wouldn't come here." It is believed that the Colombians put a hit out on Barry after they learned he was going to help the feds with the extradition of Jorge Ochoa from Spain, one of the heads of the Medellín Cartel. Barry and his wife talked about going into witness protection, but like in the movie, he decided against it. -Daily Mail Online
Author Del Hahn, a former FBI agent who wrote the book about Seal titled Smuggler's End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal, told Vice, "Seal thought he was smarter and cleverer than the Ochoas," who are one of the founding families of the Medellín Cartel. He wasn't. Barry Seal's widow, Debbie Seal, and others have wondered why the government didn't do more to protect Seal, whether he wanted the protection or not. Conspiracy theorists have gone as far as suggesting that the government ordered the hit on Seal, not the cartel, a suggestion that has never been supported by any proof.
Yes. The assassination happened on February 19, 1986 in the parking lot in front of the Salvation Army building on Airline Highway (U.S. 61) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As part of his reduced sentence, the judge had ordered Barry to spend his nights, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., at a Salvation Army halfway house for six months. Barry arrived that evening at approximately 6 p.m. and backed his white Cadillac into a parking space. He was unaware that a Colombian assassin was hiding behind one of the donation drop boxes. As Barry opened the driver's side door to get out of the car, the gunman rushed from behind the drop box and fired a .45 caliber Mac-10 machine gun, hitting Barry in the head and body several times. The gunman hurried into a waiting Buick, which sped away. The gunman was later identified as Luis Carlos Quintero-Cruz. Miguel Velez was the man driving the getaway car. Three Colombians supposedly sent by the Ochoas, including Cruz and Velez, were later arrested at the airport. They were all sentenced to life in prison. -Court Documents
The 2016 Bryan Cranston movie The Infiltrator also depicts Barry Seal's assassination, but it is historically inaccurate. That film finds Seal (portrayed by Michael Paré) being assassinated in a motorcycle drive-by shooting while he is driving and Robert Mazur (Cranston) is his passenger.
Yes. While exploring the real-life story behind the movie, we discovered that Doug Liman's father, lawyer Arthur L. Liman, ran the Senate investigation into Iran-Contra. Arthur, the chief council, investigated the CIA and questioned Col. Oliver North, who is depicted in American Made. Doug Liman had previously modeled Chris Cooper's villain in The Bourne Identity after North, which reveals Liman's feelings about the controversial figure North. -Vulture.com
Not all of Barry Seal's heirs were happy with the making of the movie. Lisa Seal Frigon, Barry's daughter from his first marriage, sued Universal, claiming that the studio should have purchased Barry's life rights from her, not his third wife Deborah who they paid $350,000. In her suit, Lisa, who is not depicted in the movie, also claimed that there were factual inaccuracies in the script, including the fact that Barry had five children, not three, and that the movie falsely suggests he was an alcoholic and a reckless pilot.
Yes. Just prior to the movie's release, news broke that the family of deceased stunt pilot Alan Purwin was suing American Made's producers for wrongful death. Purwin was a passenger in a plane that went down, killing both Purwin and Venezuelan pilot Carlos Berl. The accident didn't happen during filming. The lawsuit claims that the pilots were overworked and that the crash happened after a 12-hour workday. In court documents, the family alleged that "lapses in planning, coordinating, scheduling, and flight safety" contributed to the fatal crash in the mountains of Colombia. They also claimed that the pilot who died lacked the necessary experience for the flight. -Good Morning America
Watch an interview with the real Barry Seal where he discusses his undercover mission, and listen to President Ronald Reagan talk about the photos Seal obtained on the mission. Also, view a news story about Barry Seal's death.