'Wire' Actor Suffers Real-Life Crime Tragedy

Ralph Anwan Glover stars as the character "Slim Charles" on HBO's Baltimore-based crime drama The Wire. But, for Glover, art imitated life when his brother, Tayon, was recently murdered on the streets of Washington, D.C. The actor talks about the loss of his brother and what he's doing to stop street violence.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up: We have two stories that touch on the HBO series, "The Wire," stories that raise interesting questions about the sometimes thin line between reality and fiction.

Later, we're going to hear about what one woman says that program taught her about her own hometown.

But first, you may know that the "The Wire" is a saga of the drug world. It's set to begin its final season this January. The series has been known for integrating professional actors with performers from different backgrounds. Go-go artist Ralph Anwan Glover is among them.

But the world of make-believe and reality came together in a tragic fashion recently for Glover when his brother, Tayon, was shot to death last month. He's here with us in the studio. And Anwan, first, let me say, I am so sorry for your loss.

Mr. RALPH ANWAN GLOVER (Actor): Yes.

MARTIN: Do you know any more about why this happened?

Mr. GLOVER: It's on-going thing that goes on several times in the uptown areas in Columbia Heights. Sometimes it's like (unintelligible). It goes on years, and then you might get it just like that, and, but it's just like a little on-going feud with the two different blocks, young guys, and a younger-aged bracket is like 15 to 17 years old. And they're just going back feuding with each other and my brother was out there, and it wasn't even meant for him, but he got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it's like a young age bracket, from 15 to 17, and they just going back feuding with the street feuds, just back and forth for no reason. Yeah.

MARTIN: You're just talking in D.C., obviously.

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah. Uptown Washington, C.H., the Columbia Heights neighborhood.

MARTIN: And it just seems like this is - has been a summer of violence in a lot of cities here. There have been more than 130 homicides in D.C. this year alone. There have been more - almost 300 in Philadelphia. There've been more than 200 in Baltimore, where "The Wire" is set. Do you have any idea of why this is happening, and why now?

Mr. GLOVER: I see, you know, back in like the early '90s where you have the Rayful Edmonds and those such guys out there and…

MARTIN: Rayful Edmonds was, of course, the head of a notorious crack ring, right?

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah. Crack ring. And you had a lot of trade out there in different areas of the city - southeast, southwest, northwest, northeast. And it kind of died down. You know, it wasn't no organized crime now.

So now, you have more the young guys coming up. You have the different trades, and the guns are coming in. And it's just kind of wild. Really, they have no guidance, no self-esteem programs, really, no recreation. And it's just like more single parents, like, females. You know, and they go to work. Some of them don't. And they see this constantly, and then they think that this is the way of life. So it's just really wild right now out there.

MARTIN: But I think the question that emerges for many people and I think it has been reported that many of those who are affected by the violence - now, this is not to minimize any of the loss and grief that anyone feels.

Mr. GLOVER: Right.

MARTIN: Okay. But it is emerged that many of the people who are affected by violence had criminal backgrounds themselves. Do you think that's true?

Mr. GLOVER: That's true, too. I believe in that. And also, there's a lot of young guys out there that really, like I said before, have no guidance or just want to be like the next guy that they see on the corner, or with the big car and the rings. And a lot of it has to do with, like, just not having a father at home, not having a mentor to grab them and show them the right way. So, it's - yeah.

MARTIN: Do you think that's the case with your brother?

Mr. GLOVER: My brother, he really…

MARTIN: Because your brother did have a record.

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah, he had a record. Really, like I said before, we grew up in that era, you know. We had a single - just my mom. And she was working two jobs. She was a nurse. And we didn't have a father. We were out there, and there was older guys, like, this is what's going on. We wanted to (unintellgible) things. And it was a lot of that. And it's just like…

MARTIN: But how did you get out? I mean, as I understand it, you were in the life yourself.

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah. I've been shot. I was…

MARTIN: Several times, as I understand it.

Mr. GLOVER: Yes. I just got - Michelle, I got tired. You know, just waking up, really having no purpose, anything just outside. I love fresh air. I always was into, like, stage plays and like TV. I always like had another side to me. You know, music. And I just - I never really sold - I never sold drugs. So I just was out there, you know, a young kid, just wanted the music and just wanted popularity, just to be out there.

So I never really got into the drug trade. I think that's another thing that save me, because a lot of friends of mine are gone away for 50, 60, 40 years, or they did. I mean, I had obituary stack this high of guys that I know that's, like, lost their lives out there. But I changed my life around. You know, it was - at the time…

MARTIN: So what you're telling me, though, is you don't have to be actively selling to get - to be in the life…

Mr. GLOVER: You don't have to.

MARTIN: …to be part of the sort of the scene.

Mr. GLOVER: Your friends can be…

MARTIN: And you're still exposed.

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah.

MARTIN: But, you know the irony, of course, is that you, in real life, you say you weren't selling. But on the program, you were. So you are. That was your character.

Mr. GLOVER: Right.

MARTIN: In fact, let's play a clip. You play Slim Charles on "The Wire."

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah.

MARTIN: Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Wire")

Mr. GLOVER: (As Slim Charles) We gonna bounce back when the (censored), no question.

Mr. WOOD HARRIS (Actor): (As Avon Barksdale) Bounce back on who?

Mr. GLOVER: Marlo, boss. Oh, he goin fo'.

Mr. HARRIS: Marlo. Marlo ain't got nothing (censored) to do with it. Marlo can't be stringed like that.

Mr. GLOVER: Don't matter who did what to who at this point. Fact is, we went to war. And now, there ain't no going back. I mean, (censored). It's what war is, you know? Once you in it, you in it. If it's lie, then we fight on that lie. But we got to fight.

MARTIN: Which raises the question, is that the way it is?

Mr. GLOVER: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, is there…

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah.

MARTIN: …there's no way out. And if you're in it, you're…

Mr. GLOVER: You're in it.

MARTIN: …you're in it.

Mr. GLOVER: Pretty much like "The Wire," it's so real. It touches home, real characters, real writers. They really did their homework on writing. And the words are so true to the street code, it's incredible.

MARTIN: But when you - when your brother was killed…

Mr. GLOVER: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: You made a point of going public…

Mr. GLOVER: Right.

MARTIN: …in Washington, D.C., with the mayor…

Mr. GLOVER: Right.

MARTIN: The newly elected Mayor Adrian Fenty, and standing up in public and saying, I do not want this to continue.

Mr. GLOVER: Right.

MARTIN: I want this to stop now. Why did you do that?

Mr. GLOVER: Because it has to stop somewhere. In my area, growing up, it's always a big thing with retaliation. If this person mom wearing a t-shirt, rest in peace t-shirt, then it code on the street is his mom should wear a rest in peace t-shirt, too. And whoever came up with that back in the '60s or whatever, it's just terrible. So I have a lot of people that look up to me and follow me. And I think if I keep preaching peace and we're not going to do anymore killing, I think I have a lot of people following me, because…

MARTIN: Do you think that people are listening to you?

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah, I think people are listening to me because I think it would have been a little more, like, violence in that area since my brother got killed, because it hasn't really been any at all. You know, you might have somebody fighting, or I think I heard it might have been a random shooting of something.

But it has to stop, because why go out and kill somebody else's brother or sister, and they have to mourn? I don't want nobody to feel what I feel. That was terrible. We had to bury my brother on my mom's birthday. And I had my last taping of "The Wire" on my brother's birthday. That was tough. And then, yesterday, he just brung a brand new baby girl in the world, Denim.

So it's like you take a life, you give a life. In the street code, it's terrible. We - as me, I can change it. I know I can. Just keep fighting. It might not happen right now. But if I could save one or two, I did something.

MARTIN: But let me help - help me understand, what's the logic of it? You're saying that your brother wasn't caught up the drug trade at the time. So this isn't a matter of economics, you know, defending a corner…

Mr. GLOVER: Right.

MARTIN: …or defending a market, okay, which I think a lot of people - you're saying it's more like interpersonal conflict, like, I don't like how you talked to me. Or you said something to my girl…

Mr. GLOVER: Right.

MARTIN: …or something of that sort. So tell me, what's the logic? I mean, the guys just not think, well, I need to be around to raise this child? Or why is it so important if somebody says something rude to you or steps on your sneakers or whatever, to kill them?

Mr. GLOVER: Right. I'm still puzzled at that, too, but it's like my method is I look at it as is (unintelligible), like, it's just, they see it happened. And you really don't touch on it until it happens or hit home. You know, you really not - you're not thinking you're doing some big. I'm out filming. I'm in California and New York. And you get a call, saying your brother's dead. That's a hurting feeling.

But to have a friend, to know a friend and his brother died, you know, and you're close to that friend, well, it's like okay. Well, his brother die. It really doesn't hit that stomach until it's like your little one, and you're thinking about the things you did when you were little, and you preach it to him all the time, look, you got this ability. You're an electrician. Come on, man, let's do this. I talked to him hours before he got killed. And I was like, man, come on, help me paint, man. We could do - you know, I've got some stuff for you to do. We can get this together, you know, I want you to go now on your birthday when I film. On mom birthday, we're going to take her to Atlantic City.

MARTIN: What your just saying it - it just seems like the thing's too…

Mr. GLOVER: It's true.

MARTIN: …until somebody else intervenes. But then I know you have a radio program, a local radio program on Sunday nights where you try to talk of these things…

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah.

MARTIN: …and you try to get people to call and then say, what are you beefing about? To see if you can kind of…

Mr. GLOVER: Right.

MARTIN: …get somehow, sort of intervene in that. Do you ever worry, though - I want to talk about "The Wire," that in a way, I mean, the show is so real.

Mr. GLOVER: Yes.

MARTIN: And as you said, the writing is so real. But do you ever worry that in portraying that character, you're kind of glamorizing the very thing you're preaching against in your real life?

Mr. GLOVER: Right. It's TV, but in the same sense, a lot of people saw me as coming up as a (unintelligible) themselves, you know. Even though I didn't sell drugs like I said before, but I was out there. I saw it happen. You know, I had best friends that was in the trade, that're, look, man, you don't have to do this. That's what you got to do. Do the music, do the stage, and we'll take care of you. I'm poor, you know. I have my jobs. I did - I worked the GSA, and I work at the Design Center in southwest.

I did dry wall, and I did everything. But I never once woke up and said this is what I want to do for a living. I want to go sell drugs. You know, it was a thing where I wanted to be on this stage. And now that I do it on TV, to come home from having somebody killed on TV, to go home and have my brother killed in real life, it kind of touches home. Like, am I going to find this big gangster on TV? And this is what I have to do. When I walk through one door, I open another door. And it's tough.

MARTIN: So the final season of "The Wire" debuts in January.

Mr. GLOVER: Yeah.

MARTIN: This year coming up must be bittersweet for you, been such a great experience for you professionally.

Mr. GLOVER: It's beautiful.

MARTIN: And yet such a hard story to tell everyday, and I - you know, talking about leaving one door and walking through another door, what do you think is next for you?

Mr. GLOVER: Well, actually, I just did an episode of "Law and Order" couple of weeks ago, another bad character. But TV is TV, you know. I don't want to be stereotyped into that gangster role, because I was born - brought up and raised that way. It's never too late to get out but, you know, like I'm looking for an agent and right. I have a few agents on the table that I talked to. But, you know, just going through that door and step into another door, I think I'll be there. I'll be all right in acting, just stay focused, just stay positive and keep God first.

MARTIN: All right. Good luck, Mr. Glover.

Mr. GLOVER: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: Ralph Anwan Glover stars on HBO's "The Wire." He was kind enough to join me here in our studios, and he talked to us about his brother whom he recently lost. Thank you again for talking to us about this.

Mr. GLOVER: Thank you, too.

MARTIN: And best wishes to your family.

Mr. GLOVER: Thank you so much.

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