To one generation, he was a cold-blooded killer.
To another, he was an Aussie cult legend, with a rocking mo’ and a glorified history.
Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read died of liver cancer yesterday, aged 58.
His Twitter bio says it all. “23 Years 9 Months Jail. Stabbed. Bashed. Shot. Run Over. 60 serves of shock treatment. Certified 3 times. Author. Artist. Actor.” His life was glorified in the movie Chopper in which he was played by Aussie heart-throb Eric Bana.
He spent most of his life from 20 to 38 confined in prison for a range of crimes including armed robbery, assault, kidnapping and arson, and has claimed, variously, that he killed 12 to 19 people.
The ’90s generation sees him as an author, funny bloke, stand-up comedian and a cult hero.
But has his notoriety been lost in a generational change?
Growing up, young Australians have become familiar with larrikin tales of the unlikely icon. As a result, social media sites like Facebook have been flooded with messages; typical is “I’m just a bloody normal bloke, a normal bloke who likes a bit of torture – RIP Chopper”
But older generations witnessed his abhorrent criminal behaviour and watched as he spent time in and out of prison.
Read’s criminal life started with robbing drug dealers. Before long, he was kidnapping and torturing members of the criminal underworld. In prison, he led the “Overcoat Gang” – a group of inmates who wore coats to conceal an impressive array of home-made weapons.
His last prison term came to an end in 1998. By then he had spent 23 of his 43 years in prison and had begun to realise he had wasted his life.
Money was never Read’s motivation. “Before I die I just want my story told,” he said. And he worked at it: Read published 15 books about his criminal life. In them, he described how he tortured people while “collecting debts”. The gruesome details included using blowtorches, and cutting off toes with bolt cutters.
His books were hugely popular and he became one of Australia’s most popular crime authors.
Whether you see him as cult hero or cold-blooded killer, “Chopper” Read, one of the most dangerous men about in ’70s and ’80s, got his wish.
He will be remembered. – Luke Mahoney
Photo of Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read by Damon Cameron on Flickr