Real life Narcos at centre of hit Netflix crime drama return to Ireland

The real drug cops who inspired the Netflix hit Narcos return to Ireland next week for another round of their popular 'A Conversation On Narcos' events. David Roy spoke to retired DEA special agents Javier Pena and Steve Murphy about telling fans the real truth about bringing down Pablo Escobar, one of the world's biggest drug dealers

Netflix crime drama Narcos was based on the real life exploits of former DEA agents Javier Pena and Steve Murphy
Netflix crime drama Narcos was based on the real life exploits of former DEA agents Javier Pena and Steve Murphy

JAVIER Pena and Steve Murphy are the ex-Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents whose take-down of notorious 1980s drug czar Pablo Escobar inspired the Netflix hit, Narcos.

This pair of lifelong law enforcers – Tennessee-born Murphy was a policeman in West Virginia before joining the DEA, while Pena got his start as a deputy sheriff in his native Texas – landed the most high profile case of their careers in 1991 when they partnered up in Bogota, Colombia, to combat Escobar's ruthless and all-powerful Medellin Cartel.

This put Pena and Murphy on the front line of Ronald Reagan's 'war on drugs', tasked with the deadly job of tackling America's major cocaine supplier at source with the assistance of the Colombian national police force.

Unlike many of their Colombian colleagues, the US pair survived to tell their tale, despite Escobar placing a reported $300k price on each of their heads during the case.

Murphy personally witnessed the aftermath of the deadly rooftop shoot-out which ended their quarry's reign for good in December 1993, by which point it was clear that the on-the-run kingpin was never going to 'come quietly'.

"He didn't make it a secret that he would go down fighting, so it really wasn't a surprise to anyone," comments the former DEA man, who photographed Escobar's bloodied body at the scene for posterity.

With Boyd Holbrook portraying Murphy and Pedro Pascal playing Pena, Narcos was an immediate hit when it debuted in August 2015, nearly 22 years after Escobar's demise.

Since then, the retired agents – who served as creative consultants on the series – have been touring the world with their hugely popular 'A Conversation on Narcos' events, including last year's trio of sold-out Irish engagements, during which they discuss their battle with Escobar in more depth.

While it might seem remarkable that it took over 20 years for the former DEA men's story to be taken up by 'Hollywood', it's even more bizarre to hear that the 'Narcos' themselves thought no-one would be interested.

"Honestly, throughout our career we never thought anybody wanted to hear this story," marvels Washington DC-based Murphy, who retired from the DEA in 2013 and has two adopted Colombian daughters with his wife, Connie.

"Especially towards the end of our career, because it was so old."

DEA special agent Javier Pena
DEA special agent Javier Pena

Pena, who retired in 2014, agrees: "While we were still on the job we would do maybe one or two [talks] a year for law enforcement groups.

"A lot of the younger DEA agents all wanted to know [about the case] and I think we did establish new methods of operation and new concepts that are still being used today.

"But after the show came out and with its popularity, that's when [other] people really got interested and wanted to know the real truth."

Indeed, it seems the entertainment industry was actually interested in the Narcos story some years before Netflix came along.

However, as people will find out at the next week's run of 'A Conversation On' events in Cork, Belfast and Dublin, the ex-agents were reluctant to let anyone tell their story in a manner which might paint their former adversary in an overly positive light.

"We were introduced to a couple of Hollywood producers, and we met with them," explains Murphy, "but they both had personal agendas, so we turned them down.

"They wanted to make political statements and that kind of thing, so we decided ourselves that we just weren't going to follow up on it any more.

"That's when [Narcos producer] Eric Newman called us."

Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook play DEA agents Pena and Murphy in Narcos, the fourth season of which is now in production
Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook play DEA agents Pena and Murphy in Narcos, the fourth season of which is now in production

Newman's vision for Narcos was the first to jive with the ex-agents' version of events, which torpedoes the notion that Escobar was some sort of Robin Hood figure who cared as much about the Colombian people as feathering his own nest with billions in drug money while murdering those who got in his way.

"We call him the inventor of 'narco terrorism'," Pena tells me, before explaining that their key case still holds some painful memories for both men.

"I had some good friends there who were killed. In fact, the daughter of one of the [Colombian national police] majors who died at the hands of Pablo Escobar, came and visited me about six years ago.

"She's a police officer now, but she was a baby when he was killed. She never got to meet her father. I told her what he was like – that he was a real hero."

Pena continues: "We've always said the real heroes in of all this were the Colombian national police, and now they're getting their credit."

The Narcos pair are now looking forward to bringing their true story back to Ireland for a second time next week.

DEA special agent Steve Murphy
DEA special agent Steve Murphy

"It was a blast, we had a great time," enthuses Murphy. Everybody was very nice to us and we can't wait to come back."

"It was great people and the energy was great too," agrees Pena. "It helps us when an audience is energised and into it."

Excitingly, it seems Ireland may soon be able to claim one of these Narcos legends as 'one of our own'.

"We've always said we have Irish blood because of our name, but I've never traced it back," explains Murphy. "My oldest son's wife is doing a lot of research now to see if she can track down what part of Ireland we came from."

:: A Conversation on Narcos, Tuesday May 15, Cork Opera House, Wednesday May 16, The Telegraph Building, Belfast, Thursday May 17, Olympia Theatre, Dublin. Tickets available via Ticketmaster outlets.