Mark "Chopper" Read
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|Mark "Chopper" Read|
"Chopper" as depicted on the cover of his album Interview with a Madman.
|Born||Mark Brandon Read
17 November 1954
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
|Died||9 October 2013
Parkville, Victoria, Australia
|Cause of death||Liver cancer|
|Other names||Chopper Read|
Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read (17 November 1954 – 9 October 2013) was an Australian criminal and author. Read wrote a series of semi-autobiographical fictional crime novels and children's books. The 2000 film Chopper is based on his life.
Read was born on 17 November 1954 to a former army and Korean War veteran father and a mother who was a devout Seventh-day Adventist. He was placed in a children's home for the first five years of his life. He grew up in the Melbourne suburbs of Collingwood, Thomastown, Fitzroy and Preston. He was bullied at school, claiming that by the age of 15 he had been on the "losing end of several hundred fights" and that his father, usually on his mother's recommendation, beat him often as a child. In an interview with 60 Minutes, it was revealed that Read had been molested as a child. Read was made a ward of the state by the age of 14 and was placed in several mental institutions as a teenager, where, he later claimed, he was subjected to electroshock therapy.
When he was still young, Read was already an accomplished street fighter and the leader of the Surrey Road gang. He began his criminal career by robbing drug dealers, based in massage parlours in the Prahran area. He later graduated to kidnapping and torturing members of the criminal underworld, often using a blowtorch or bolt cutters to remove the toes of his victims as an incentive for them to produce enough money so that Read would leave them alive.
Read spent only 13 months outside prison between the ages of 20 and 38, having been convicted of crimes including armed robbery, firearm offences, assault, arson, impersonating a police officer and kidnapping. While in Pentridge Prison's H division in the late 1970s, Read launched a prison war. His gang, dubbed "The Overcoat Gang" because they wore long coats all year round to conceal their weapons, were involved in several hundred acts of violence against a larger opposing gang during this period. Around this time, Read had a fellow inmate cut both of his (Read's) ears off in order to be able to leave H division temporarily. While in his early biographies Read claimed this was to avoid an ambush by other inmates, by being transferred to the mental health wing, his later works state that he did so to "win a bet". The nickname "Chopper" was given to him long before this, from a childhood cartoon character.
Read was ambushed and stabbed by members of his own gang in a sneak attack when they felt that his plan to cripple every other inmate in the entire division and win the gang war in one fell swoop was going too far. Another theory is that James "Jimmy" Loughnan, a longtime friend of Read, with Patrick "Blue" Barnes, wished to benefit from a contract put on Read's head by the Painters' and Dockers' Union. Read lost several feet of intestine in the attack. At the time Read was serving a 16 and a half-year sentence after attacking a judge in an effort to get Loughnan released from prison. Loughnan later died in the Jika Jika fire at Pentridge in 1987.
In 1992, Read was convicted of shooting Sidney Michael Edward Collins in the chest. The incident took place in Read's car, which was in the driveway of Collins's residence at Evandale, Tasmania. The bullet was recovered from the back seat of the vehicle, and Collins named Read as the shooter. Pleading not guilty, Read was found guilty of grievous bodily harm, a downgraded charge from attempted murder, and sentenced as a "dangerous criminal" to indefinite detention. He walked free early in 1998. In 2002, Read was again questioned over the disappearance of Sidney Collins, who is still on the Australian Missing Person list after going missing in suspicious circumstances. Read admitted to murdering Collins in his last broadcast interview before death on the Australian 60 Minutes program aired on 20 October 2013. Read expressed no remorse for killing Collins, alleging he was "stupid" for being shot by Read on two separate occasions with Collins's own gun.
Read claimed to be involved in the killing of 19 people and the attempted murder of 11 others. In an April 2013 interview with the New York Times, Read said "Look, honestly, I haven't killed that many people, probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it."
In the TV series Tough Nuts, Read also spoke of his mid-1980s to early 1990s rivalry with Alphonse Gangitano. Read explained that he had a disagreement with Gangitano regarding an elderly neighbourhood hero whom Gangitano admired. It is alleged[by whom?] that Gangitano burst open the toilet cubicle door[where?] with a number of associates and began a serious assault on Read who made his escape but not before spreading his faeces into Gangitano's face.
In 2001, Read was featured in an advertisement on behalf of the Pedestrian Council of Australia warning of the dangers of drunk driving. Read is seated at a kitchen table undoing his shirt and, while pointing to the numerous scars and injuries on his body, says:
|“||When I was in prison… I got slashed in the face … my ears cut off … my eyebrows trimmed and a butcher's knife here, an icepick here – not fun at all, etc … If you drink and drive and you're unfortunate enough to hit somebody, you ought to pray to God that you don't go to prison.||”|
In 2005, Read embarked on a tour of Australia performing a series of shows titled I'm Innocent with Mark "Jacko" Jackson and later toured Sydney in a stage show with a new co-star, former detective Roger "The Dodger" Rogerson.
In 2006, Read appeared in another commercial speaking out against domestic violence. On 13 March 2006, he released a rap album titled Interview with a Madman. He also appeared in the 2002 Australian comedy Trojan Warrior.
He made the headlines again, on 15 December 2008, after being questioned by police about an alleged incident in Johnson Street, Collingwood. Read was attacked by a tomahawk-wielding man he said he had never met before. He said: "I ran to the panelbeaters and grabbed a pipe. I said, 'Come here now' and he jumped into a car and pissed off." Read suffered a minor injury to his arm after being hit with the blunt end of the tomahawk. Read was questioned by detectives at Richmond police station before being released without charge. His alleged attacker has not been found.
Read's first book, Chopper: From the Inside, was collected from letters he sent while incarcerated in Melbourne's Pentridge Prison and published in 1991. It contains tales and anecdotes of his criminal and prison exploits. Further biographical releases followed in a similar vein. With the advent of Chopper 5: Pulp Faction, Read began writing fictional tales based on his experiences of criminal life. Attempts were made to ban a children's book written by Read titled Hooky the Cripple.
Public commentary and political views
Read frequently appeared on radio and television talk shows to promote his books. He had a column in Ralph magazine, was regular columnist for Zoo Weekly and the British FHM magazine.
Read's success in selling tales of his criminal past has prompted widespread calls to amend the Federal Proceeds of Crime Bill (2001)—which confiscates the proceeds of drug deals and robberies—to also apply to indirect proceeds of crime, including book sales, TV appearances, and the like.
Read described his political beliefs as "to the right of Genghis Khan". In his book Chopper 2, he lists Bruce Ruxton and American conservative G. Gordon Liddy as his political heroes.
A fictionalised version of Read was featured in several sketches on The Ronnie Johns Half Hour. In some of these sketches, such as "Harden The Fuck Up!", Read was portrayed by Heath Franklin. Read said that although the parody was not totally accurate, he found it funny.
Science fiction author William Gibson based a character (Keith Blackwell) in the final two books of his Bridge trilogy on Read. In the second book of the trilogy, Idoru, Gibson wrote in his acknowledgments:
|“||Anything I know about the toecutting business, I owe to the criminal memoirs of Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read (Chopper from the inside, Sly Ink, Australia, 1991). Mr. Read is a great deal scarier than Blackwell, and has even fewer ears.||”|
Jim G. Thirlwell, in his 1995 Foetus release, Gash, wrote and performed a song titled "Steal Your Life Away" which included a somewhat Read-like persona and several quotes from Read's first book, including "I'm a garbage disposal expert", "You've got to stand at the edge of the grave for the rest of your life", "Me and my mental health don't agree most times" and "Why ask why?".
The 2000 film Chopper, starring Eric Bana as Read, was based on stories from Read's books and independent research, leading to events portrayed on screen that somewhat contradicted Read's version. For instance, Read claimed in early books to be vehemently against drugs, but the film portrays him as a casual drug user. In response, Read stated, "You have to have tried something to be able to say you hate it."
Read married Australian Taxation Office employee Mary-Ann Hodge in 1995 while imprisoned in Risdon Prison in Tasmania for the shooting of Sidney Collins. The couple had one son, Charlie. They divorced in 2001. On 19 January 2003, he married long-time friend Margaret Cassar. They had one son, Roy Brandon.
Health issues and death
Read contracted hepatitis C during his time in prison, possibly contracted by using a blood-stained shaver. In March 2008 he revealed he only had two to five years to live and required a liver transplant. However, he refused to agree to the procedure, stating that while a transplant would save him, he did not want one when an organ could be provided to someone else.
In April 2012, Read was diagnosed with liver cancer. He underwent surgery in July 2012 to remove tumours from his liver and in late September 2013 he was admitted to Melbourne Private Hospital in failing health.
- Chopper: From the Inside (1991), ISBN 0-646-06543-2
- Chopper 2: Hits and Memories (1992), ISBN 0-646-10987-1
- Chopper 3: How to Shoot Friends & Influence People (1993), ISBN 0-646-15444-3
- Chopper 4: For the Term of His Unnatural Life (1994), ISBN 0-646-21014-9
- Chopper 5: Pulp Faction: Revenge of the Rabbit Kisser and Other Jailhouse Stories (1995), ISBN 0-646-25065-5
- Chopper 6: No Tears for a Tough Guy (1996), ISBN 0-646-29637-X
- Chopper 7: The Singing Defective (1997), ISBN 0-646-33923-0
- Chopper 8: The Sicilian Defence (1998), ISBN 0-9586071-0-9
- Chopper 9: The Final Cut (1999), ISBN 0-9586071-4-1
- Chopper 101⁄2: The Popcorn Gangster (2001), ISBN 0-9579121-0-2
- Hooky the Cripple: The Grim Tale of a Hunchback Who Triumphs (2002), ISBN 1-86403-165-4
- The Adventures of Rumsley Rumsfelt (2003), ISBN 0-9579121-7-X
- Chopper 11: Last Man Standing: From Ex-Con to Icon (2007)
- Mark 'Chopper' Read: One Thing Led To Another (2010), ISBN 978-1-4050-4046-4
- Mark 'Chopper' Read: Road to Nowhere (2011), ISBN 9781742611457
- Interview with a Madman (2006)
- The Smell of Love E.P. – Chopper Read and The Blue Flames (1997) Newmarket Records (Catalog New 3003.2)
- Chopper Archived 11 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- Mark 'Chopper' Read not sorry – or afraid to die of cancer
- Mark 'Chopper' Read obituary, Australian criminal and author whose autobiography was turned into a hit film, Garth Cartwright, theguardian.com, 9 October 2013 03.42 EDT, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/09/mark-chopper-read-obituary
- Silvester, John (3 October 2013). "'Posh people love gangsters'". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
- Siegel, Matt (12 April 2013). "Australia's Brand Name for Ferocity, Softened by Time". The New York Times.
- News and Gossip
- Chopper Read in 'tomahawk' street fight attack
- Video on YouTube
- Gibson, W. (1997). Idoru. United Kingdom: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-14-024107-5.
- "The life, times and crimes of notorious celebrity crook Mark 'Chopper' Read". Herald Sun. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
- "Chopper Read reveals he has cancer". The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 April 2012.
- "Dying 'Chopper' refuses transplant". Sunday Mail (SA). 14 June 2008.
- Lowe, Adrian (27 April 2012). "Cancer-stricken Chopper 'has weeks to live'". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "Hepatitis like a prison accessory, says Mark Read". The Australian. 28 August 2012.
- Carey, Adam (30 September 2013). "Mark 'Chopper' Read admitted to hospital". The Age. Melbourne.
- "Chopper Read crime figure and author dead from liver cancer aged 58", The Age website, 9 October 2013.
- "Chopper Read dies", ABC website, 9 October 2013.
- "Mark 'Chopper' Read dead", ninemsn website, 9 October 2013.
- "Road to nowhere / Mark 'Chopper' Read with Simone Ubaldi". Trove/NLA. Retrieved 27 August 2015.