Denise Francine Boyd Andrews, drug counselor whose life was chronicled in ‘The Corner,’ dies at 65

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Denise Francine Boyd Andrews, a central figure portrayed in the HBO miniseries “The Corner” who emerged from the underworld of drugs and crime depicted in the show to become an addiction counselor in Baltimore and a role model with a story of personal redemption, died May 3 at her home in Parkville, Md. She was 65.

Her brother, Stanley Boyd, confirmed her death and said he did not know the cause.

Mrs. Andrews, known to friends as Fran, devoted years of her life to the rehabilitation of people often cast aside as “junkies” or dismissed as hopeless. David Simon, an executive producer of “The Corner,” which aired on HBO in 2000, once told the New York Times that he did not “have many heroes left” but that Mrs. Andrews was one of them, and that her life was a testament to the truth that “everybody gets to write their endings.”

Simon, a former journalist who is also the creator of the acclaimed HBO drama “The Wire,” met Mrs. Andrews when he was reporting the book “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood” (1997) with former homicide detective Edward Burns. The book became the basis of the 2000 HBO miniseries.

The “corner” of the show’s title referred to the drug market around the intersection of Fayette and Monroe streets in West Baltimore. When Simon and Mrs. Andrews first encountered each other in that neighborhood, Simon told the New Yorker magazine, she refused to speak him, assuming him to be an undercover police officer.

But over time, Mrs. Andrews opened up about her life and addiction, offering a window into the destruction that drugs had wreaked on her life, her family and the families around them.

By her own account, the Baltimore Sun reported, Mrs. Andrews first tried heroin when she was 23, the night of her sister’s funeral. She descended into a years-long dependence and into a state, she told the Times, in which “all your worst nevers come true.”

Her son De’Andre L. McCullough began selling drugs in his teens, and his father, Gary McCullough, died of an overdose in 1996. Their struggles became the focus of the book by Simon and Burns as well as the HBO miniseries, which won three Emmy Awards, including the prize for outstanding miniseries.

Mrs. Andrews, who was portrayed on-screen by Khandi Alexander, described the show as “good, on target,” even if it “brought back a lot of memories that I really didn’t want to go through again.”

“But then as time went on,” she told the San Jose Mercury News in 2000, “it showed me just how far I had come.”

In the mid-1990s, Mrs. Andrews entered recovery. She credited her turnaround in large part to her future husband, Donnie Andrews, a former heroin user who years earlier had turned himself into Burns after killing a drug dealer and whose early life inspired the character of Omar Little in “The Wire.”

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Profoundly impressed by the way Donnie Andrews had reformed himself in prison, Burns introduced him to Fran, hoping the connection might show her a way forward in her own life.

Their relationship began with daily phone calls during Donnie Andrews’s incarceration and continued after he was paroled in 2005.

“I was often in bad shape when I answered that phone, but no matter what I did or what I said, Donnie never criticized me,” Mrs. Andrews said. “He just kept giving me reasons why I should be doing something else, saying that if he can change, I can change. Through the worst of times, I kept holding on to that.”

Their romance and eventual engagement, leading up to their marriage in 2007, was covered on the front page of the Times.

By that time, Mrs. Andrews had long before established herself as a drug counselor. Hired in 1997 at what was then Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore — now Grace Medical Center — she shepherded drug users into treatment and promoted HIV prevention. In addition to two sons, she raised two nieces and a nephew and provided for the mother of a grandchild, helping them attend college and graduate school and begin careers.

“No matter with all that was going on, we were always taken good care of,” her son De’Rodd Hearns, a firefighter, told the New Yorker after his mother’s death. “We were different from some of the other kids in the neighborhood, who weren’t taken care of.”

Denise Francine Boyd, the fourth of six children, was born in Baltimore on Oct. 15, 1956. Her father was a construction worker, and her mother was a homemaker.

Mrs. Andrews attended the Community College of Baltimore County and worked for roughly a decade for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co.

She had several cameo appearances in “The Wire.” In “The Corner,” she played a rehab center employee who turns away the character of Fran Boyd when she shows up early for treatment, an indictment of the medical system and its failure to heal patients in the throes of addiction.

De’Andre L. McCullough died of an overdose in August 2012 at 35. Donnie Andrews died four months later after suffering a ruptured aorta.

Besides her brother and son De’Rodd Hearns, Mrs. Andrews’s survivors include the nieces and nephew she raised, Kennyetta, Ashley and Byron Bell; her grandson’s mother, Tyreeka Freamon; and numerous grandchildren.

When a reporter for the Irish Independent once asked Mrs. Andrews what lessons she drew from her life, she replied that “it would have to be ‘never say never.’ ”

“I strongly believe,” she said, “there’s hope for anybody.”

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